The New Era of Space Exploration: A Cautionary Travel Blog to the Moon

The moon has always been an intriguing interest to humans historically. People on Earth have gazed at the sky with varied questions and concerns. In the early 17th century, the invention of the telescope established new and enlightening discoveries of the moon. The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilie studied the moon through his personally designed telescope and saw, for the first time, lunar mountains and craters. His observations repositioned the sun at the center of the universe and reimagined the way that humans connected to the moon; our relationship with the cosmos would never be the same. Elsewhere all across Europe, astronomers and philosophers studied the lunar patterns and pondered their observational insights. The relationship between humans and their fascination with the moon intensified over history, eventually landing men on its surface. Humans continue to push forward in space exploration and reach for new outstanding limits; the next lunar  achievement is currently developing and plans to permanently put men on the moon. A moon village is the new era of exploration, a possibility that has never been attainable until now.

Sputnik

Sputnik 1 was the first satellite in space, launched by the Soviet Union.
The launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957 kicked off the space age and the Cold War space race, the latter of which peaked when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the surface of the moon in July 1969. https://www.space.com/38331-sputnik-satellite-fun-facts.html.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched a 184-pound metal orb, the size of a beach ball, into space. This first artificial satellite was named Iskustvenniy Sputnik Zemli, capable of orbiting the earth and reaching a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. The launch of Sputnik is commonly viewed as the start of the space race-a silent war between America and the Soviet Union to be the first nation to achieve one of humanity’s greatest successes, putting a man on the moon.

NASA was the next step forward in the leg race to get to space. On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn orbited the Earth in a Mercury space capsule. The next step for NASA was creating the Gemini project, which was a two-year experimental stage where dozens of missions were launched by both man and unmanned, to further understand spaceflight.

The Soviet Union claimed the next big factory for the space race on April 12, 1961. Yuri Alekseyevich became the first man in space and the first man to orbit the Earth. The news of his expedition created a stir for the American space team and, in the next ten years, the Apollo missions began a spaceflight revolution.

The Eagle

The day was July 20, 1969. Apollo 11 launched the infamous lunar lander, Eagle, into the sky. The mission was ultimately successful, landing three men on the surface of the moon. Neil Armstrong emerged from the lunar ladder, being the first human to ever see what he did. During the first surface exploration, Armstrong and his team collected rocks and other lunar samples, conducted experiments and evaluated the “thermal effects of sun and shadow inside the suit”. Additionally, tracking a passive seismometer and a laser ranging retroreflector, to help scientists measure the precise distance from the Earth to the moon.

The Apollo Missions

Apollo 15 was one of the many Apollo missions to the moon, designed to explore and bring back materials from the moon. https://www.indiewire.com/2019/07/apollo-missions-to-the-moon-national-geographic-documentary-interview-1202155615/
Astronauts on the Moon on the Apollo 15 mission, one of the many Apollo missions by NASA. https://www.indiewire.com/2019/07/apollo-missions-to-the-moon-national-geographic-documentary-interview-1202155615/

NASA’s Apollo missions dramatically expanded the knowledge we have about the moon and how we think about the Earth. From the Apollo program, we know the moon is made of rocky material that has been melted, thrown from volcanoes, and crushed by meteorite impacts. We have learned that the moon is extremely old and that its rocks have a common ancestry with the Earth. There were altogether six Apollo missions, landing twelve missions over the period of three and a half years. In these missions, astronauts studied and collected samples of soil mechanics, heat flow, and solar winds. The Apollo missions were not only “one giant leap for mankind” but were also significant scientific feats. The Apollo astronauts collected a total of 842 pounds of moon rock. The common lunar minerals are silicates made of elements such as calcium, aluminum, oxygen, magnesium, and iron. This research on moon rocks has incredible implications for the similarities between Earth and the moon. These discoveries were the start of a new era of space travel, a more permanent agenda for moon landings.

Artemis

A Washington Post headline on Saturday, April 12, 2021, read, “Nasa Awards SpaceX contract to bring astronauts back to the moon”. NASA selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, among three contenders, to be the first space mission to the moon since the Apollo missions. Artemis is a current campaign to return astronauts to the moon after fifty years of intermission. Robotic spacecraft has continued since 1972 and has helped to unravel the moon’s secrets, including its origins. Astronauts have mapped the lunar surface and used technology to study its deep interior. Recently, investigations have found water on the lunar surface. These discoveries have set the stage for humans to return to the moon, and potentially one day stay there. Over the past decade, SpaceX has flown cargo supplies to the International Space station, setting up supplies and material foundation on the station. The Artemis program is being designed so that large numbers of people can fly into deep space and the cost will continue to decrease as passenger numbers increase. We are thus, in a period that has access to space, a possibility that has never been fully attainable, until now.

Artemis is NASAs current lunar projected, aimed to land men to the moon once again.
NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System, will send astronauts to the moon on the Artemis missions. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-the-artemis-program-58.html.

Falcon 9 rocket

Thus far, SpaceX has successfully launched two teams of astronauts to the International Space Station. And is set to have a fully operational mission again this year, and this time the stakes are higher. Projected for late 2021, SpaceX is planning a new age mission to the moon, on its Flacon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. The team will be comprised of a former NASA astronaut and former pilot, and an additional two guests. The two selected spots will be for tourists. Falcon 9 is only the beginning. The two-stage rocket is built to be reusable and reliable. This technology is designed to transport people and payloads into Earth’s orbit and, eventually, beyond.

Lunar Paradise

The Lunar Poles

This image provides evidence that there is water frozen in the lunar poles.
Daytime temperatures near the Moon’s north pole are dramatically colder than elsewhere, as low as 40K (–390°F) inside some craters. Those permanently shadows recesses likely harbor thick deposits of water ice. https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/direct-evidence-of-water-ice-at-the-moons-poles/.

Creating a permanent settlement on the moon is becoming less of a scientific fiction theme and more of a cautious possibility. Building a moon colony will not be an easy task, but the new implications of a working civilization in space are actively being considered. The first problem with living on the moon, the most obvious, would be the atmosphere and lack thereof. The moon has an exosphere where the molecules are gravitationally bound to that body. No atmosphere means no protection from outside forces such as meteorites. The International Space Station, however, has created a system of recycling air in the International Space Station.  Systems such as lunar greenhouses can act as oxygen-emitting planets and air-recycling systems could keep lunar settlers comfortably breathing for years. Because of the moon’s lack of a magnetic field, there is no protection from the electromagnetic particles emitted by the sun. If there were to be lunar structures built to last, these structures would have to withstand extreme temperatures and potential impacts due to moonquakes or space debris. A lunar colony would also have to have a strong and reliable water source. NASA currently has the idea of building these settlements on the lunar poles, where there are deposits of ice. The lunar poles are additionally at a relatively stable surface temperature around 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).

Moon Village

A moon village would be a base for research but also a hub for tourists.
A potential example of what a moon village would look like. https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/news/a16428/esa-wants-to-build-a-village-on-the-moon/.

NASA is not the only company with its sights set on a moon village. The European Space Agency has described the moon as an “eighth continent”, which could have a major role as a future manufacturing hub and epic tourist attraction. The ESA has successfully used simulated lunar soil to create building material for a habitat on the moon. NASA is currently working to develop technology using 3D printing to turn moondust into concrete-like material. Constructing a moon base from lunar material would be less expensive than materials shipped from Earth. Additionally, with the right technology, using moon materials would prove to be ultimately sounder against the moon’s atmospheric limitations.

An inhabited research base on the moon would be like those in Antarctica. The Antarctic stations are constructed either on rock or on ice and inhabited by researchers and scientists. Antarctica, like the moon, is a place with extreme weather and unforgiving conditions. Outside exposure is limited to researchers in the Antarctic winters, and would be even more limited on the moon. The moon’s atmosphere does not protect humans from cosmic radiation; an astronaut would receive over 400 times the maximum ion radiation within ten hours of exposure, even in a space suit. Thus, technology must continue to develop for long lasting, safe space suits.

 Laura Forczyk, an astrophysicist and planetary scientist, put the complications of a lunar village into simple terms by stating that “humans are fragile, and because we’re so fragile, we require so much”. The possibility of life on the moon is there, and technology along with it. The logistics of humans truly living on a moon base is incomplete and still a work in progress. Previous moon expeditions have expanded what we know about the moon due to resource collection and analytics. Essentially, these expeditions were missions to collect and comprehend. Members of each space mission had a job focus and scientific background to guarantee research-based success.

Lunar Inhabitants

Although humans were the first explorers on the moon, they are not the most useful explorers. Artificial intelligence has already been able to surpass humans as explorers and research collectors; capable of withstanding harsh environments easily and travelling further in space. Therefore, the primary purpose of humans in space will be settlement. Artificial intelligence has been created to replace humans as primary researchers, and allow “space” for humans to take part in space exploration without a research position.

Lunar inhabitants would have to exercise for hours a day to maintain bone and muscle mass. The low-gravity environment affects blood flow and affects the eyes, bones, and muscles. The moon’s gravity is 1/6th of Earth’s gravity; the human body working against gravity keeps humans healthy and strong. The day and night on the moon would be pitch black, requiring a consistent supplement of vitamin D for passengers. The physiological challenges would be incredibly prevalent but the psychological challenges for long term residents would also be significant. Moon villagers would be confined to lunar space and additionally confined to designated small rooms. The simple notion of stepping outside to take a breath of air would be nonexistent. The confined space and the lack of variation would be something to consider for anyone hoping to be a lunar villager.

Mission to Mars

The end goal for SpaceX is the hope that one day we will be able to fly people to Mars. Mars is an average distance of 140 million miles away and is Earth’s closest potentially habitable neighbor. The atmosphere is mostly made up of CO2, with some nitrogen and argon. The combination of these elements could be compressed and reused for energy resources. SpaceX is currently building a system of design based on the Sabatier process, that will synthesize methane and liquid oxygen from atmospheric CO2 and ground water from ice. The Sabatier process is a reaction of hydrogen and CO2 at elevated temperatures that produces methane and water. The use of this process and these materials would create a production of energy that could generate fuel for the base and rockets.

The Ethical Problem

Mining the Moon could be the new potential for resource extraction.
Artist’s depiction of a moon base and mine with a view of Earth in the distance. https://theconversation.com/mining-the-moon-110744.

It is important to note the outstanding boundaries human beings have surpassed in the last fifty years and specifically the last ten. The common problem human society has juggled with is the  moral issue; just because we can does not necessarily mean we should. The moon is mostly an untouched terrain, a creation by the Universe. The Earth was once a similar place, untouched and expansive with resources and materials. As international capitalistic, political, and economic agendas have increased, our resources as a planet have dramatically decreased. The extensive abuse of our global materials has thus created an interest in other worldly materials.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, designed the lunar company named Blue Origin. He stated that the consumption of energy and resources on Earth would eventually reach unsustainable levels and that the solution would be mining the moon for its riches. He is not the only advocator for this economic potential. The European Space Agency has, in recent years, compared the moon to Africa. Africa, in the infamous “scramble for Africa” in 1885, was completely claimed and divided by all major European nations. Each world power claimed a piece of land for its own and used this new land to extract resources. This scramble was motivated by the current economic depression occurring in Europe at the time.

If history repeats itself, and it most definitely does, we may see a much more complicated and much more intensive colonization on the moon. As Bezos most clearly indicated, large economic and political forces are invested in this space craze for every reason that our current planet is dying; resources create power and power causes destruction of these resources. Although there are ways to use and re-use moon materials and attempt an energy-sufficient moon base, this space project will require a lot more money, a lot more natural resources, and it may lead to another naturally depleted planet.

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