By the end of this decade, several space agencies plan to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since the Apollo era. But while Apollo was a “footprint and flag” affair, the current proposals for exploring the moon call for the creation of an infrastructure that allows for a permanent human presence there. In addition to NASA’s Artemis program, ESA is also working on a plan to create an “International Moon Village”.
For years, ESA has been publishing teasers of what this “successor to the International Space Station” (ISS) might look like, the latest of which can be seen in the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice. As part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) presented its design (with technical support from ESA) for a semi-inflatable lunar habitat that could enable long-term lunar colonization.
While the theme of this year’s architecture exhibition, which runs from May 22 to November 11, is “How will we live together?”. This is broken down into five scales, consisting of “Among different beings”, “As new households”, “As emerging communities”, “Across borders” and “As one planet”. The SOM installation (which spans some of the scales) is titled “Life Beyond Earth” and envisions how people can live sustainably in the hostile environment of space.
The SOM installation consists of two large format models of the habitat and a film (see below) that shows how a habitat module is delivered to the moon and integrated with others to form a fully functional “village”. The SOM design is based on a semi-inflatable shell structure that offers the highest possible volume-to-mass ratio (and can be launched to the moon at a lower cost).
When they reach the surface of the moon, the modules are inflated and almost double their original volume. The interior of each module consists of a four-story floor-to-ceiling ceiling environment with interior lighting and reconfigurable functions. This enables crews to take advantage of lunar gravity (16.5% of Earth’s gravity) by effortlessly ascending and descending between floors (which is aided by poles and other simple tools).
The video also shows the selected location for the future lunar village, which is within the edge of a massive lunar impact crater. This is Shackleton Crater, which is located in the South Pole Aitken Basin and measures 21 km (13 miles) in diameter and 4 km (2.5 miles) deep. This location is considered an ideal location for a lunar base, as the ground is permanently shaded and therefore immune to the extreme temperature fluctuations on the lunar surface.
The ESA moon base shows its position in the Shackleton crater. Photo credit: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill / ESA
Since the moon is connected to the earth by the tides (with one side constantly facing it), the lunar surface has a day-night cycle that lasts about a month on earth – an average of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes , and 3 seconds. During a two-week “lunar day”, surface temperatures away from the poles can reach up to 390 K (117 ° C; 243 ° F) and up to 100 K (-173 ° C; -280 ° F.)) During a “moon night”.
In permanently shadowed craters, temperatures are relatively stable at 60 (-213 ° C; -352 ° F) to 80 K (-193 ° C; -316 ° F), while the rest of the polar surface receives near-continuous sunlight. Solar systems installed directly behind it along the edge could use this exposure to generate a constant flow of electricity. In addition, Shackleton and other impact craters in the southern polar region have abundant water ice on their permanently shaded floors.
Another benefit of building in this region is the constant view of the earth. This is another advantage of its location in the polar regions of the moon and the nature of its orbit with the earth. While it is necessary to create habitats that look up to the surface and provide a sense of connection with the local environment, the ability to see the earth will allow future people living outside the world to connect with their home to feel.
The interior of the lunar village shows where plants are grown for oxygen and food. Photo credit: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill / ESA
It would also give everyone who lives and works on the lunar surface the opportunity to experience the “overview effect” whenever they feel like going on a moonwalk! As Frank White, a “space philosopher” who coined the term, described it in his 1987 book of the same name, the term describes the shift in consciousness that occurs when one looks at the earth from space – generally as the earth as one , valuable system that is not subject to arbitrary limits.
Other possible means of building a lunar base are to combine inflatable structures and 3D printer robots to create the outer shell of a base from lunar regolith – a process known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). This can be done with an aggregate of regolith and binders (i.e. “lunacrete”) and molten ceramic, which is made by bombarding regolith with microwaves (also known as “sintering”) and 3D printing the hot material onto the surface where it is hardens.
In addition to the lunar village proposed by ESA, these techniques could be used to establish Artemis base camp, as well as a Chinese and Russian lunar base. Other pieces of NASA’s Artemis mission architecture are shown in the video, such as the Lunar Gateway and the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) – a next-generation manned surface vehicle NASA is developing for the Moon and Mars.
Astronauts on an EVA outside the lunar village. Photo credit: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill / ESA
This and the next decade will be a very interesting and exciting time as several space agencies and commercial partners will create the necessary infrastructure to ensure that humans can continue to explore, live and work on the moon in the future. In the midst of it all, the message of the “Artemis Generation” is clear: “We’re going back to the moon. And this time we stay! “
Further reading: ESA