Colonize the Moon

Background

The gravitational pull of the moon is about one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity and doesn’t have a significant atmosphere, but it does have a tenuous layer of gases that includes tiny amounts of hydrogen, helium, and neon. Establishing a base on the moon can serve as a stepping stone for further space exploration and research. Plus lunar soil is believed to contain significant amounts of helium-3, which can be mined and brought back to Earth to be used as fuel for nuclear fusion power plants, providing a new source of energy that is clean and abundant.

Lunar Origin

There are several theories about the origin of the Moon. These theories include the capture theory, which suggests the Moon was captured by the Earth’s gravity after it formed elsewhere in the solar system; the fission theory, which proposes that the Moon formed from a chunk of the Earth that was spun off as the planet was cooling; and the twin formation theory, which holds that the Moon and Earth formed together from the same cloud of dust and gas. However, the soil samples from the surface of the moon collected in 1969 did not provide clear evidence to support any of the existing theories. This led to the development of the impact theory in 1975 which suggests that the Moon formed as a result of a colossal impact between Earth and a massive object. This violent collision propelled fragments from Earth’s crust into orbit around our planet. Over time, these fragments came together under the influence of gravity and gradually formed the Moon as they cooled. The impact hypothesis could also account for the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

The debate over whether the moon was once cold or hot was resolved upon close examination of its surface, which revealed the presence of crevices and molten rocks, thereby indicating that the moon had gone through a hot phase. The Moon is believed to be about 4.5 billion years old and many of the rocks on the Moon are believed to be between 3.8 and 4.5 billion years old determined through radiometric dating and other techniques. The Moon’s surface was heavily bombarded by asteroids and comet impacts during its early history, a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment from 3.8 and 4.1 billion years ago. The rocks in the Imbrium-Procellarum terrain are some of the youngest rocks on the Moon, but they are still thought to be at least 3.9 billion years old. There are also younger rocks with different compositions and characteristics that formed through volcanic activity. For example, the dark regions on the Moon, known as the lunar maria, are believed to have formed from volcanic activity around 3 to 4 billion years ago. We still need to sample rocks from the largest basin Aitken, located at the South Pole.

Proposal

The objective is to land a team of 16 scientists and engineers on the Moon by 2030. The location of the base will be on the southern side due to the presence of the deepest crater and the discovery of ice crystals in that area. At first, the colony will not be able to sustain itself and will require combustibles to be transported five times per year and a human and robotic program should be implemented. He-3 is a rare isotope of helium (it has one neutron not two that the stable helium isotope He-4 has) that is believed to have been deposited on the Moon by solar winds over millions of years. The sun’s fusion reaction transforms hydrogen into helium, leaving He-3 present in the outer layers of the Sun, and it is carried out into space by the solar wind. It’s important to note that we have yet to develop fusion reactors that can use He-3 as fuel. Moreover, developing a lunar-based fusion reactor and creating efficient mining and transportation systems will require significant technological advancements. Lastly, these isotopes are more prevalent on the far side of the moon which faces the sun, but still there is only 20 parts per billion of He-3 in the lunar soil.

Life Support

We would need to mine 2*109 tons of regolith per year or a 0.75-mile area that is 9 feet deep. This would yield 220 pounds of He-3 worth $141 million. We should build a camp in the largest crater on the moon, the Aitken Basin. Mascons (short for mass concentrations) are typically associated with large impact basins, such as the Imbrium, Serenitatis, and Crisium basins and have higher gravity due to their concentrated mass. The increased gravity will help keep the machines on the ground. Life-support systems typically use a combination of N2, O2, and H2O to sustain human life in environments where these resources may be limited. N2 and O2 are used as the main components of breathing gas, while water is necessary for hydration and temperature regulation. Propulsion systems that use a combination of H2, O2, and He-4 are typically used in rocket engines for space launch vehicles. H2 and O2 are commonly used as propellants and He-4 is used as a coolant in some rocket engines.

Lunar Composition

Moon rocks are composed of iron, volatile substances, and oxygen. The moon has a simpler mineral composition than the Earth due to its smaller size and lack of geological activity. The surface makeup consists of 42% oxygen, 21% silicon, 13% iron, 8% calcium, 7% aluminum, and 6% magnesium. The moon is predominantly composed of four minerals which make up 98% of its composition. These minerals include plagioclase feldspar, which consists of Anorthite (CaAlSi2O8) and NaAlSi2O8; Olivine (Mg, Fe)2SiO4, renowned for its green hue; Pyroxene, comprising FeSiO3 and CaFeSi2O6; and Ilmenite (FeTiO3), a dark and dense mineral that is composed of TiO2 (52-54%), FeO (45%), Al2O3 (0.3-0.4%), MnO (0.3-0.4%), Cr2O3 (0.2-0.4%), and MgO (0.1-0.4%).

With the exception of mare basalts, which are cooled molten rocks, the majority of rocks found on the moon are breccias. These are created by the shock waves produced by high-speed impacts, which cause materials to fuse together. In some craters, small glass pools can be found at the bottom. Anorthosite samples collected from the Moon were analyzed, and the results showed that they originated from meteorite impacts that occurred about 600 miles beneath the Moon’s surface. This discovery provides evidence that the Moon was once a magma ocean. As the magma cooled and solidified, anorthosite, which is a type of igneous rock, would have formed and been brought to the surface by volcanic activity.

Lunar Surface

The surface of the Moon is covered by a layer of fine dust called regolith, which is about one to two meters (3 to 6 feet) deep in most areas. The regolith is composed of small fragments of rock, minerals, and glass that have been ground up by billions of years of meteoroid impacts. In 1994, the Clementine spacecraft, which was designed to map the surface of the Moon, discovered evidence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater near the Moon’s south pole called Shackleton Crater. The discovery was made using a laser altimeter, which detected an anomalous reflection from the crater that was consistent with the presence of ice. The icy patches cover an estimated 15,400 square miles (the size of Maryland and Delaware combined). There was no evidence of water on the moon previously because there was no water vapor, sedimentary rocks, or hydrous minerals such as mica. The highlands, not smooth lava plains, cover approximately 85% of the lunar surface and mostly all the far side. They are composed mainly of anorthosite, a rock rich in aluminum. Additionally, closer craters on the Moon’s surface can be searched for various minerals, including diamonds or coesite (a form of silica).

References

  1. D. Mackenzie. The Big Splat: Or How Our Moon Came to Be. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley & Sons. 2003.
  2. D. Nardo. The Moon. Farmington Hills, Michigan: KidHaven Press. 2003.
  3. I. O’neil. “Building a Moon Base: Part 1 – Challenges and Hazards”. April 21, 2008.
  4. N. Smith. “Have space greenhouse, will travel”. April 17, 2009.
  5. J Wharris. “Is Colonizing the Moon Possible?” January 1, 2009.
  6. H. H. Schmitt. “Mining the Moon”, Popular Mechanics. October 2004.
  7. Wikipedia. “Colonization of the Moon”.
  8. M. Smith. “Moon Reports: Moon Wars”.
  9. Fusion Technology Institute: NEEP533 Course Notes (Spring 2004) Resources from Space. The University of Wisconsin-Madison. May 7, 2004.
  10. MIT Achieves Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion. Popular Mechanics. Aug 28, 2017.
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