Colony on the Moon: the real future or fantasy billionaires?

"In my childhood, - says the scientific editor of Wired Eric Niiler - my brother and I could not get enough of" Space: 1999 ", the TV series mid-70s, who mesmerized us cool special effects, cute, Barbara Bain, who played along with her real husband Martin Landau, and the image of the moon as the protagonist of the 48-minute episodes. The premise was a bit far-fetched: an explosion at a lunar base pushes the Moon from the Earth's orbit, and embarks on a journey across the galaxy. Happening was only 15 years in the future.

Colony on the Moon: the real future or fantasy billionaires?

In those years, the years after the "Apollo" program, we expected that NASA or some international cosmic forces will work on space bases in real life. More than four decades later, we are still waiting for our "moon base Alpha," although it is not from lack of interest. Former astronauts, dreamers or adventurous dreamy entrepreneurs, they keep the dream of a lunar colony. Today, thanks to the merger of technology, money, and political interests, this idea can go beyond science fiction is closer to reality. "

Then - in the first person.

50 years of space exploration and colonization ... no

From my interviews with the cosmologists, industry representatives and futurologists, it became known that there is an informal plan that slowly formed to colonize the Moon. Firstly, private space companies are looking for ways to reduce launch costs. Now, says SpaceX, a launch of the Falcon 9 rocket costs her $ 62 million, and more powerful Falcon Heavy - $ 90 million. Satellite companies and others want to get something like a wholesale discount, booking space flights. SpaceX deliver food and supplies to the International Space Station, hoping to take back the astronauts begin by the end of 2019.

Then there will be flying and orbital platforms. The Chinese are planning to launch an orbital space station by 2020, while NASA turned to private companies with a proposal to develop a lunar orbital platform gateway near the Moon by 2022. It can become a launching pad for future NASA missions and settlements on the Moon and on Mars. At the same time, private firms like Moon Express, as well as Chinese, Indian and European space agencies are moving forward with robotic landers and rovers. The final step, say supporters, will be a permanent human presence on the Moon's surface. Perhaps the first will be a government base, and then a private hotel on the moon.

NASA's involvement in lunar plans - is the key to allow private companies to build on the lunar surface, said Chris Levick, CEO Planetary Resources, Redmond startup, which plans to develop the asteroids for rocket fuel and water.

"Government programs - these are the main tenants in the mall," said Levick about NASA and future lunar base. "Without a major tenant and small business will not survive. Without NASA would be too hard to do it yourself. "

Some claim that all this can happen in the next 10 years. Others say it will take at least 20 years before the technology will be developed lunar routine starts and the cost will be low enough to generate consumer demand.

Although it seems as if everything is progressing very slowly, one of the lunar experts likened it the creation of the colonies of the New World, which does not pass in one night. "There is a delay between the discovery, exploration and exploitation," said James W. Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, who began his career at NASA's, choosing a place for the landings on the Moon missions "Apollo".

How to start?

Supporters of the colonization of the Moon believe that the lunar base will allow us to better understand how to reach the far reaches of the solar system. There will also be fun to visit the moon at least once in life. Moreover, the Moon is much closer Mars - before it can be reached in three days, rather than for the first nine months - so to fly more people. In addition, the moon can produce valuable resources.

Some researchers from China and Europe believe that on its surface contains large reserves of helium-3, a rare element that can be used as a future energy source for fueling rocket departing from the Earth further into space. (A disadvantage is that the recycling of helium-3 in something useful requires an enormous amount of energy). Also, in the polar regions of the moon is frozen water: laminate it into hydrogen and oxygen by means of electrolysis and receive breathable air - another source of propellant. Perhaps it will be soon, but the leaders of European and Chinese lunar program have already announced that they intend to explore these options in future lunar missions.

There is another good reason to create a colony: our survival. James Head recalls that he often said the commander, "Apollo" John Young, who flew into space during the program "Gemini", "Apollo" and the space shuttle, when asked whether the people back to the Moon needed "one planet type will not survive . Leave the planet - a good survival strategy. Sooner or later it will be the only motivation to create a base on the Moon. "

How will the moon's economy?

To moon base to work, it needs economic basis. already brewing among US economy "low Earth orbit" (DOE for short), among those that put satellites into space, serve them and are ready to build a place for people who will live and work in Earth orbit.

LEO economy grows. Since 2000, more than 180 startups have attracted more than 18, 4 billion investment, according to the report Bryce Space and Technology for May 2018. SpaceX worth $ 28 billion - a real giant of the commercial space industry, and CEO Elon Musk wants everything at once: to launch a satellite constellation of LEO, to send people to the moon and establish a base on Mars. We have a history of broken mask timing. Whether it is supply Tesla Model 3 or ambitious plans for space. But the frequency of launch SpaceX rockets - 28 from the beginning of 2017 - has made his company one of the most successful aerospace companies in the world.

They also found that using reusable SpaceX rocket can greatly reduce the start up cost. This may open the door to a new set of parking in the zero-gravity around the Earth and perhaps the moon. These private gas stations may eventually replace the International Space Station - the mission length of 20 years and cost $ 100 billion, which is about to be completed.

The transition from the LEO-lunar economy to the economy - it is a real scenario, says Jeffrey Manber, CEO Nanoracks, a Houston company, which manages its own space laboratory to the ISS and launches 10-inch kubsaty for both commercial and academic customers with the ISS.

"After five years in LEO are hotels, and ten you will see a growing infrastructure," says Manber. "Across the frontier will be scattered with warehouses hotels, gas stations, commercial modules or lunar colonies."

Call Manber crazy, but much of what he says, is already happening. Bigelow Aerospace, a startup space technology, built inflatable working module for the astronauts on the space station in 2016 and plans to launch another moon by 2022. The company belongs to Robert Bigelow, billionaire founder, who believes that UFOs have visited Earth. Bigelow - one of the few billionaires who are involved in the race to the moon, including Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin, mask and SpaceX, Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic.

Their thick wallets and freedom from the need to take a quarterly report on income help to promote technology advance by leaps and bounds. They build a rocket that can deliver Bigelow and Nanoracks to the moon. NASA only in the era of "Apollo" could burn as much fuel as Bezos, who recently zavyavil that Amazon sells shares of a billion dollars a year to support the work of Blue Origin. Blue Origin is developing a lander Blue Moon, which will be able to carry the load on the lunar surface for a future base and missile New Glenn, which was successfully tested in July.

How realistic are plans to establish colonies?

Economy missile launch could be a turning point in the development of all of this, says writer Andy Weir. He wrote a "Martian", a science fiction novel about the astronaut, who has fallen on Mars, which was eventually made into a film by Matt Damon. As a continuation of Weir wrote "Artemis" on the lunar colony. Weir on the plan, "Artemis" will be built in the 2080s. He also believes that the real moon base is also possible.

"To our future was haynlaynovskim," he says, referring to the classic science fiction 50s by Robert A. Heinlein, "you need to find a cheap way to leave the Earth's gravity; as soon as you do, and the rest will come. "

Weir has estimated that it is necessary to send visitors and tourists on the lunar holiday for 70 000 dollars. His rough estimate is that the rocket launch cost should be reduced to 4635 US dollars per kilogram to US $ 35 per kilogram. This is a significant reduction, but may take place is not much time before the numbers come together.

Once this problem is solved, according to Weir, the natural resources of the Moon will be enough to build a city.

"Even in a world in which you have reduced the price of the DOE, you need to use the resources in place," says Weir. "The pioneers did not take with pallets of wood to build their houses." Weir says that the moon is extremely rich in the fact that you need to build a lunar base - for example, anorthite stone that covers large areas of the lunar surface, because it can be divided into aluminum, oxygen, calcium and silicon (used in glass).

But after all his research Weir understood that the seabed, the polar regions of the Earth and colonize the Sahara lighter than the Moon. He notes that the need to bring oxygen to breathe, protection from cosmic radiation and water with meals.

"The problem is that nobody wants to send people to the moon," says Weir. "Everyone wants to send robots. People are dying and soft. Robots are strong and ... die, too, but nobody cares. "

China is already working on this. China plans to launch a lander and rover in December on the far side of the moon. The country's leaders also talked about how to put astronauts on the moon by 2036, and the White House is that NASA has returned to the moon.

Head, a planetary scientist working with the Chinese believe that the Chinese government will provide such technological enterprise whatever resources. China's space program does not stop due to lack of funds as the US. For China to put men on the moon - the main task.