Could moon be colonized?

We are always as a society talking about Mars being colonized, but what about Moon? Mars is perhaps colder, so temperatures there are better for colonization, but is there anything else that makes moon a bad place to colonize, but mars a good place? Type of soil, chance of creating a atmosphere,etc…?

Unless it becomes profitable, like maybe them finding some valuable metal or something, I just dont see the point.

Colonizing both places is possible, but it’s a question of why. Like right now, we could ‘colonize’ Antarctica. There’s nothing technologically stopping us, but what exactly is the point? A few scientific outposts are about all we need from there, so that’s all we have. The moon and Mars will likely be similar. It’s POSSIBLE that Mars might have some mineral deposits that are exploitable, but they certainly won’t be economically exploitable in our lifetimes or our children’s lifetimes or probably our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Maybe a few hundred years down the road, but realistically we’re stuck with Earth for quite a long time if not permanently, so we’d best not muck it up.

Antarctica is a paradise compared to the moon and Mars.

Are you talking about terraforming it or just colonization? Both are possible, but I don’t think it would be worth the effort in the case of the moon (and even in the case of Mars I don’t think it would be worth the effort). If you are just talking colonization, then yeah, we could do it. There are plenty of old lava tubes that could be used to put a base in that would be shielded from some of the radiation, there is water ice on the moon, and you could, in theory, even use the soil to extract water…and rocket fuel. There are some uses for the moon that lend it for some limited colonization or at least permanent bases a la Antarctica. You could put in a pretty kick ass telescope complex there, for instance. You could mine it for raw materials. You could use it for manufacturing. You could, more easily than on the earth, build things like a space elevator or orbital rings or even just orbital launch facilities. My WAG is that the moon will eventually have some sort of colony or permanent base.

As to the moon verse mars, both have their advantages. Today, right now, the moon is actually a better choice. It’s closer, and more easily logistically supported. Launch costs and support would be cheaper. Getting stuff off the moon would be easier. Building out a base would be easier. Setting up resource exploitation and manufacturing would be easier.

But what’s the point?

The comparison to Antarctica, one I’ve made before, has already been made in this thread and it’s a rather apt one. We have an entire continent on this planet we don’t use. It is, I would guess, literally ten thousand times cheaper, safer, and easier than setting up a “colony” on the moon. But we’re not doing it, because it’s pointless. The moon is ten thousand times more pointless.

You can’t mine Antarctica…there are treaties, and unlike the space treaties I think they are more apt for enforcement. You could put a telescope on the moon that would be far superior to one you could put anywhere on the earth…including Antarctica. You an do manufacturing on the moon for the raw materials you harvest that you can’t do in Antarctica. There is at least as much interesting stuff to discover and learn about on the moon as there is in Antarctica. Just doing the base/colony would give us a lot more engineering experience in building such things in space, where there is even more a point to go than we could get just going to Antarctica. The moon could be used as a launch platform in the future or a transshipment facility if/when we ever start doing real asteroid exploitation. You could use it to further explore the solar system.

There are actually a lot of uses for the moon. Probably why several nations are working towards going there with an eye towards a permanent facility and why several private corporations are doing the same.

Breathable air, (barely) habitable temperatures, a protective magnetosphere, normal Earth gravity, regular cargo shipments of thousands of tons of supplies and equipment (to McMurdo Station), and penguins: what more could one ask for of paradise?

There are a number of major hurdles with inhabiting the Moon aside from just the logistical problem of sending people and supplies in sufficient quantity to make an outpost viable, but one of the major showstopers may just be abrasive, highly charged dust that sticks to everything; see NASA/TM—2005-213610/REV1 The Effects of Lunar Dust on EVA Systems During the Apollo Missions, James Gaier, April 2007:
*Dust on the lunar surface proved to be more problematic than anyone had anticipated. Gene Cernan in the Apollo 17 Technical Debriefing remarked, “I think dust is probably one of our greatest inhibitors to a nominal operation on the Moon. I think we can overcome other physiological or physical or mechanical problems except dust.” All of the Apollo missions were adversely affected by the dust due to included visual obscuration, false instrument readings, dust coating and contamination, loss of traction, clogging of mechanisms, abrasion, thermal control problems, seal failures, and inhalation and irritation.

Simple dust mitigation measures were sufficient to mitigate some problems like loss of traction, but for many such as thermal control problems, adhesion, and abrasion, it is clear that new technologies must be developed. Some mitigation strategies, such as vibration have been tried and found lacking. Others, such as brushing appeared to work much better in ground tests than they did in the lunar environment. Clearly, an important area is the development of better simulation environments than were used in the Apollo era. This may include the use of better simulants, higher vacuum, correlated simulations, and more realistic thermal and illumination environments.
Finally, the pervasiveness of the dust and the problems it causes were summed up by Gene Cernan in his Technical Debrief

“Dust - I think probably one of the most aggravating, restricting facets of lunar surface exploration is the dust and its adherence to everything no matter what kind of material, whether it be skin, suit material, metal, no matter what it be and its restrictive friction-like action to everything it gets on. For instance, the simple large tolerance mechanical devices on the Rover began to show the effect of dust as the EVAs went on. By the middle or end of the third EVA, simple things like bag locks and the lock which held the pallet on the Rover began not only to malfunction but to not function at all. They effectively froze. We tried to dust them and bang the dust off and clean them, and there was just no way. The effect of dust on mirrors, cameras, and checklists is phenomenal. You have to live with it but you’re continually fighting the dust problem both outside and inside the spacecraft. Once you get inside the spacecraft, as much as you dust yourself, you start taking off the suits and you have dust on your hands and your face and you’re walking in it. You can be as careful in cleaning up as you want to, but it just sort of inhabits every nook and cranny in the spacecraft and every pore in your skin.”*

I’m sure someone will come along and say something like, “That’s just an engineering problem,” but the reality is that dust is often a problem even for equipment and people having to operate in terrestrial environments where electric charge is dissipated by conduction with air, dust particles erode the initially abrasive surfaces, and dust can be readily washed or blown away using the environment. Vacuum-cemented and electrostatically-charged dust that jams mechanisms, blocks radiator surfaces, and is inhaled by human astronauts.

Other problems such as protection of solar particle and high energy cosmic radiation, and surface thermal cycling can be mitigated by living down under the regolith, and the Moon has an extensive series of lava tubes which would make that relatively easy, but the one thing that can’t be fixed is gravity; the 17% Earth-normal gravity offered by the Moon may be significantly below the threshold for indefinite human habitation, with physiological effects not only manifesting in degradation of the skeletomuscular system but other more subtle affects right down to the cellular and genetic level as seen in astronauts after stays of at little as a few months at the International Space Station. Since we have no long duration habitation experience in fractional gravity environments it is difficult to say with any certainty how long human inhabitants could tolerate living at Moon surface gravity, but as space physiologists have learned more about the effects of space travel and freefall on human astronauts they have found responses and problems previously unexpected.

There remains, of course, the justification for inhabiting the Moon. It is not a viable location to evacuate or house a large population even if you had technomagical transportation to the Moon, and while the body no doubt has mineral resources and water ice (near the poles, in the least accessible locations from an orbital mechanics point of view), the fiscal justification for mining and returning them to Earth at profit makes no sense. Such resources are almost certain more readily available in Near Earth Asteroids, and while most are not as accessible as the Moon they are easier to extract and send to some orbital processing facility or to be used as raw materials for constructing orbital habitats, which is the only real value of extracting space resources.

It is often suggested that helium-3 ([SUP]3[/SUP]He) could be used as fuel for aneutronic nuclear fusion, but that casual suggestion is belied by the facts that we are still decades away from controlled nuclear fusion using deuterium-tritium (D-T) fuels, D-[SUP]3[/SUP]He fusion is a couple or orders of magnitude more difficult than D-T fusion (D-[SUP]3[/SUP]He fusion has Lawson criteria of 16 (the product of required temperature, plasma density, and confinement time to achieve fusion) and a power factor of 26.4 (the ratio of fusion power output to power losses within the plasma) compared to D-T fusion), and sifting through hundreds of tons of lunar regolith to get a gram of [SUP]3[/SUP]He fuel is nonsensical; we could more readily synthesize it via tritium production and decay or capturing it directly from the solar wind.

Any colonization of space is going to be proceeded by a massive amount of remote and automated exploration and resource extraction just to be able to make environments that are sufficiently terrestrial-like that humans could live in them for an indefinite period of time, and to be able to control the hazards of the space environment. The only real utility of an outpost on the Moon would be to test and practice processes and technology for space habitation, and the dust environment may make even that so problematic as to not be worthwhile.


Define “colonization.” Do we colonize another moon/planet if all we do is set up a permanent facility on it to do research, mine things, etc., without actually sending permanent residents? One can easily imagine the Moon having such a facility (though with substantial engineering issues as noted above). But sending people up there to live doesn’t seem to have much purpose. Much more likely we’ll eventually put people under our increasingly rising oceans.

Without a native population to exploit and exterminate, it’s not really colonizing. It’s just camping.

My issue is that when I think of colonize, I think of going to a place, and eking out a subsistence until the settlers are self sufficient. The colonization of North American by Europeans for example.

But that is never going to happen with the moon or Mars is it? Would we ever reach a time where the men and women there would be self-sufficient, right? Antarctica is a great example and it always comes us. That is orders of magnitude more hospitable than the moon. And we could never be self sufficient there. And if we can’t be self sufficient, than all this talk of “moving of this rock because it’s man’s destiny” is just Star Trekian science fiction nonsense.

Why couldn’t they eventually be self sufficient? I don’t know about man’s destiny and all that, but two things. First one is…if we don’t leave this rock we will die, as a species. Second is, there is gold (and lots of other goodies) in them thar hills, so I really don’t see why we wouldn’t be expanding off this planet, since the resources are literally astronomically greater than they are on earth. Including Antarctica. And it doesn’t matter if Antarctica is more hospitable than the moon or mars.

Personally, I don’t think we ever will really colonize in the sense it seems many are talking about in this thread either the moon or mars. Oh, I think we’ll have permanent facilities there for mining and scientific research, even some for folks who live there all the time, but I think the major colonization will be in space habitats not on planets, moons or asteroids. Those will be used for raw materials and resources, for sure, but it makes more sense to build large rotating habitats in space where you could support populations of billions or even trillions (not that I think our population is headed that way in any case, but you COULD) with room to spare.

To be fair, even if we do leave this rock, we will also die as a species. It’s pretty much inevitable that at some point humanity and all of its descendants will be dead.

I do agree that it’s also POSSIBLE for a colony to be self-sufficient on the moon. We can grow food in moon soil (though poorly) and they can produce energy and most materials. In the same sense, it’s POSSIBLE for a colony to be self-sufficient in Antarctica. I just don’t think that there’s a reason to do either. The moon really doesn’t have any mineral wealth to exploit and Mars has the issue that any mineral wealth you can exploit there would cost way more in transportation costs than the mineral is worth - so barring the discovery of unobtainium or crazy lowering of space travel costs, it just isn’t going to happen.

Space habitats are an intriguing idea, but they suffer the same problem. Why? Generally, they only make sense when the Earth is already on its apocalyptic last legs and at that point who has the resources to make them?

There is a big difference between us dying out in a few centuries or a few millennia and us dying out in a few million or a few billion years. Plus, you never know…on those types of time scales we may figure out a way to cheat death one final time. If we stay only on this planet though, it will be sooner rather than later.

Which brings up the habitats. I disagree that they suffer the same problem. I think they would and will be useful far before we are at the apocalypse stage. You could move a large population off planet and lessen the impact of those humans on the planet. You could build habitats specifically for certain vertical flora and fauna to preserve them. You could build habitats just for heavy industry or manufacturing (though you could use the other planets and moons for that stuff too), close to asteroid resources. I think that this is what we will eventually do (say a century or so down the line). There is nothing impossible wrt engineering or physics to do stuff like this…it’s just very resource intensive and would cost the world to do today. But I think that will change.

At any rate, wrt the OP we could colonize the moon, depending on what the OP means by that. mars too. I’m pretty confident that in my lifetime we’ll see a permanent base on the moon at least, and manned missions to mars. And I expect to see the first steps towards (automated) surveying and the beginning of exploitation of asteroids and space manufacturing.

Terran escape velocity is 11.2 km/s. Lunar escape velocity is 2.4 km/s.

When it becomes cost-effective to harvest resources from the rest of the solar system (whether those resources derive from manufacturing, mining, research, or x), a huge part of the cost effectiveness will come from that difference. Luna is the first step to the rest of the galaxy, because the Earth is a deeper well by an order of magnitude.

We will be able to colonize the Moon when the global economy is at least two orders of magnitude larger than it is today. By that point we’ll be able to send people to live on the Moon just for fun, the same way people climb Mt Everest for fun, or sail around the world for fun, or cook the world’s largest cheeseburger for fun. Except a Moon colony would be much cooler than the world’s largest cheeseburger.

If you need your Moonbase to turn a profit then get used to disappointment.

I think being self sufficient is harder than we are giving it credit for.

We have to grow our own food and have our own water. Be able to make our own oxygen. Be able to make every motor, cable, shirt, suit, part, metal, etc., etc. Every component what we need, and every component needed to make every component. That is a vast, vast undertaking, and I’m not sure that the raw materials exist for us to make this happen.

Never is a long time, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that if we built a base it would ‘never’ be self sufficient wrt food, water or materials needed to keep the colony going. This wouldn’t mean they would never import anything, unless you want to define pretty much every country on earth today to not be self sufficient, but I’m not seeing it as some impossible challenge forever and ever, amen. More like really difficult…today. But in an age of 3D printers on large scale, advanced robotics and AI or nano-tech?

As for the last, you seriously question if the raw materials exist to build a colony in situ?? Why? Even if we say that a moon colony could only ever use stuff on the moon (or mars), there is staggering amounts of raw materials, especially if we are talking a small colony of a few hundred. And, of course, nothing is in a vacuum (well, I guess some things are :p)…any prospective colony would be trading with the earth, with other installations or habitats, with the asteroid mining facilities, etc etc. In fact, I could see the moon being a sort of clearing house or central hub for raw materials coming in from near earth resources to be processed and then sent on to earth if needed.

Here is Issac Arthur’s take on industrializing the moon, if you are interested.

We cannot produce food in lunar regolith without a lot of processing and added fertilizers. Lunar soil not only lacks organic material to support life but also has essentially no bioavailable nitrates or phosphates, and because it has not been subjected to eons of wind and hydrologic action, oxidation, and being processed by organisms. The topsoil we grow crops in is literally the excrement of worms and residue of plants, animals, and microorganisms. Lunar regolith is a basaltic grit resulting from billions of years of bombardment and harsh thermal cycling; if used as a soil for farming it would form up like non-hydraulic cement, binding carbon dioxide and compacting to provide poor water retention. Any farming on the Moon would require hydroponics or importing masses of organic materials to even begin processing lunar regolith into something useful.

Mars is even more problematic in this manner; while trace amounts of nitrates have been found in surface soil, it also contains large amounts of perchlorate salts which would have to be washed out of the soil due to their toxicity to plans (and people). While with enough processing and introduction of microorganisms to break down the regolith into useable soil could make it at least marginally fertile, this would take years or decades to produce.

And the escape velocity from NEAs and other asteroids is essentially zero. The advantages of solar orbiting colonies, aside from that they could be made to simulate very Earth-like conditions including simulated gravity, is that they can be moved to where resources are, or resources can be moved in proximity to them, at arbitrarily low energy without the problems of lifting materials up from a gravity well or descending them through a thick atmosphere. Of course, building even a small habitat sufficient to hold a few thousand people is a massive undertaking to rival any megastructure project today even notwithstanding the need to develop new techniques for operating in freefall, but again that goes back to a need for massive automation to proceed human habitation.

As for the purported “need” for humanity to leave Earth before it dies, although that is a common sentiment apparently derived from some kind of “Manifest Destiny” philosophy, there is no particular reason it has to be so. While the Earth is not a closed system, it can be treated so from a materials standpoint for the foreseeable future, and the Sun will continue to provide a steady output of solar radiation for the next several hundred million years, by which time we will have either evolved into something else or been eclipsed by another species. Humanity and its predecessors have survived on Earth for millions of years, and large mammals in general for over 65 million. It is true that species have evolved into others or gone extinct, but that is an essential process of existence and evolution; if anything, we won’t remain static and very likely will take control over our own evolution, and control of population so as to not tax natural resources or disrupt the natural cycles of the regional and global biomes.

In any case, it is not clear that “colonizing” the moon provides a useful step to space exploration or human habitation given the problems with operating on the surface and relatively few and difficult to access resources it provides. Emplacing a telescope upon the moon makes little sense as it would be far easier to just deploy it into orbital space where it could face in any direction, not be exposed to contamination with charged lunar dust, and not subject to tidal seismic activity. The same is true for pretty much any other kind of facility or equipment you could conceive of installing on the Moon; there really isn’t any fundamental reason to do so other than to satisfy the 1950s cartoons of lunar outputs and military bases of “space infantry” and similar anachronisms from the era.