It’s been almost 50 years since humans have set foot on the moon. Now, the European Space Agency is planning to go back – and to move in.
“Why not have a moon village?” Johann-Dietrich Woerner, the new director-general of the ESA, tells Julian Spector for CityLab. “A moon village not meaning a few houses, the town hall, and a church — the moon village would consist of a settlement using the capabilities of different space-faring nations in the fields of robotic as well as human activities.”
With the International Space Station geared to shut down around 2024, Woerner believes it’s time to start planning the next phase of humanity’s foothold in space. But while astronauts haven’t been back to the moon since 1972, technological advancements make a moon settlement less of a setting out of science fiction and more of a design and logistical problem, Spector writes.
When completed, a working moon village could look like a mix of buildings built from natural materials like cement made from moon rocks and soil and of repurposed modules from the International Space Station. Settlements could be built inside the deep craters that litter the moon’s surface, which would protect residents from dangers like cosmic radiation, micro-meteors and severe temperatures. And most of the hardest work could be done before any moon settlers got there with the help of drones and robots.
But while the first moon settlers in the ESA’s complex would likely be scientists and researchers, entrepreneurs are already developing ways to take advantage of the moon’s natural resources. Earlier this year, NASA teamed up with several companies to come up with ways to mine the moon for precious elements and materials, including gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, reports Susan Caminiti for CNBC.
"We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space," Naveen Jain, one of the entrepreneurs working with NASA and co-founder of Moon Express, tells Caminiti. "That type of exponential technological growth is allowing things to happen that was never possible before."
This isn’t the first time a space agency has proposed building a permanent settlement on the moon. Back in 2006, NASA was actively developing plans for a moon base, including ways to run weekly supply trips from Earth, until budget cuts in 2011 led NASA to shut down the Constellation program. While NASA is still playing a supportive role in commercial lunar exploration, there is an opening for other space agencies to take the lead in settling the moon, Spector writes — and for tourism to follow lunar exploration.
Soon enough, the hot new European vacation spot could have a great view of the planet Earth.