If you have seen the news in the last ten years, you know that there is a good reason to believe that Earth will soon be virtually uninhabitable. Mother Nature has already begun to wage war with coasts all over the world, ravaging them with hurricanes and tidal waves; this year, earthquakes and fires have destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of property and taken hundreds of lives. Unrest between world superpowers has hit a fever pitch, and everyone seems armed with weapons of mass destruction. It seems like every year these catastrophic events get worse, and we are constantly on the verge of the global apocalypse we were promised in 2012... well, probably not. But, if anything crazy were to happen to the Earth to make it completely uninhabitable, our greatest hope of survival would be to escape to another world. The moon is our closest neighbor, so, what would it take for us to set up a permanent home there? Elon Musk tweeted that we should already have a home there by now. The fact of the matter is that we haven't been to the moon in a long time. And why not? It's right there!
It is high time that humanity went beyond Earth. Should have a moon base by now and sent astronauts to Mars. The future needs to inspire. https://t.co/6HjDQnRSA5— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 13, 2017
Elon Musk's tweet was inspired by United States' President Donald Trump has signed off on a plan to send astronauts back to the moon. This is a very significant step in colonization; the last time there was a human on the moon was 45 years ago this month. But saying is one thing: the Apollo mission to the moon cost $25 billion, which adjusted for inflation would look more like $150 billion today. But it's hard to say what the real cost of a mission to the moon would be given that our technology has improved exponentially each year since then.
This was a surprising plan coming from the U.S. President, who has generally considered endeavors of science and innovation to not be worthwhile. It's especially reassuring to see Elon Musk agreeing with him on this subject so even-handedly; their relationship has been a little bit rocky. The fact is, if NASA wants to build an entire colony on the moon, it seems pretty likely that they are going to have to rely on SpaceX for a little bit of help; utilizing SpaceX for their tested and ready-to-launch missiles that have proven their ability to make it to the space station, to make it into orbit, and to return home is just common sense.
So, if NASA is going to get the funding it needs to send someone back to the moon, what kind of developments can we look forward to once we get there?
One of the most significant reasons we would even want to spend a lot of time on the moon (besides the fact that it would be really fun to be able to jump super high) is that the small rock that orbits the earth is absolutely rich with minerals that can be used back here on earth. In general, nothing ever happens for free -- so if we're ever going to colonize the moon, there has to be some way for the people there to make money. The easiest way would be to mine out these minerals. Of course, more excavation needs to be performed to determine whether or not mining solutions would even be economically feasible.
The ultimate goal of this feat is not just so that we can get away from Earth. Ideally, the colonization of the moon would be a stepping stone to getting other worlds as well. According to NASA, it's obvious that we're going to have to practice on the moon before we can make it to Mars. There are many unique challenges that come along with living away from our ancestral home. Landing on the moon would give us solutions to some of those challenges when we try to move a little bit further away.
One thing that is of utmost importance in landing on the moon is remembering that the habitat that the satellites inhabitants will live in has to have a similar rating against radiation as the space station does. There is no protection from solar radiation out there; a colony is a much larger-scale endeavor than a space station, and that means a lot of steel will need to be sent up into space.
But once all of that is in place, scientists are pretty sure that building an inhabitable environment would be just as feasible as the ones that astronauts already survive in. The biggest difference between the habitat on the moon and the Internation Space Station would be the moon's limited gravity, which would actually make it feel a little bit more like home than the ISS. It would also make things like farms and storage much easier because the moon has a large, flat surface which things can be pinned down to. The space station is floating freely in space and any extra space or materials attached to it affect its orbit around the earth. Now, all we have to do is get those materials to the moon.
NASA has said that we could colonize the moon in 2022, for as little as $10 billion. That's crazy considering the price tag of the Apollo mission! New technology has driven down the cost substantially. If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to gather energy from the sun using solar panels probably reduces quite a massive burden from the space shuttle in terms of raw weight that it has to carry for fuel. A colonization mission will require a lot of machinery; cranes, cars, belts. A lot of robots using a lot of energy. And solar panels can make all of that much, much easier especially because there are never rainy days on the moon. It's the ideal candidate for large-scale construction projects using robots with solar panels on them.