This is the 3000th year. Using all of Earth's natural resources, humans have become a cosmic race and created colonies on the moon. Large, sealed domes pile up across its surface, inhabited by cities inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people. This cold, gray rock has somehow become the new home of humanity.
Of course, this is pure science fiction. But no vision of the future is complete without an outer colony of humans, and since the Moon is the closest celestial body to our planet, it is the easiest to imagine as our futuristic home.
But does this vision align with reality? Will the moon one day be a hot property and if so, how many people could realistically maintain its undesirable landscape?
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One way to answer this question is simply to look at the surface of the moon. At one quarter of the size of our planet, the moon could theoretically fit one quarter of Earth's current population at Earth's density. But how many people could fit on the lunar surface is a very different question from how many people the world could sustain sustainably . And in this respect, the Moon is definitely the poorer cousin on Earth.
"It's a pretty barren place," says Darby Dyer, a senior scientist at the Institute for Planetary Sciences in Arizona and professor of astronomy at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. "Each species is seeking to expand its ecological niche. But the new 'niche', which is the moon, is very inhospitable to humans," Dyer told Live Science.
Unlike Earth, water does not flow freely on the lunar surface and is collected in bodies from which we can drink. Most importantly, the moon lacks an atmosphere with breathing air. Neither does the Earth's natural satellite have existing ecosystems that could comfortably support areas of agriculture. The moon is also vulnerable to solar storms eruptions from the sun's surface that send out electromagnetic radiation that the moon ̵
All this can make the life of the moon seem impossible. Surprisingly, it's not. In fact, the basic things about human existence – air, water, food and shelter – are theoretically not as unreachable on the moon as you might expect.
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Take in the air. To support an initial population of several hundred people on the moon, we will need to start transporting air to the moon's surface, pumping it into sealed structures in which humans will live. That seems unsustainable, but in the short run, it will actually be quite cost-effective, said Marcus Landgraf, the lunar project manager at the European Space Agency. "People don't use much air. We won't have to make the moon air for a long time. We can bring it in," he said. "The transportation costs for this are still manageable."
However, if this population grows to the tens of thousands, we will have to synthesize oxygen on the moon, an expensive process. But Landgraf said the growth of space exploration over the coming decades could make the process more economical.
This is because the propulsion of spacecraft requires oxygen, so that if demand increases, "it makes more economic sense to build oxygen generators of the Moon for rocket fuel rather than drinking water and air for humans," said Landgraf. This will reduce production costs, which will make air production cheaper for moon dwellers.
Water, water everywhere
What about water? Until a few decades ago, researchers thought the moon was completely dry. But now they know that there is a surprising amount of fluid spread over the moon's surface.
"We think that water has remained since the moon was formed. And we know that comets, which are basically dirty snowballs, periodically affect the lunar surface," Dyer said. "There is good evidence to suggest that those [craters] where comets hit the surface still have ice tanks in them."
Another water source, she said, comes from the solar winds that roar from space; charged with protons, they collide with electrons on the moon, forming hydrogen.
All this leads to a decent amount of moon water, perhaps enough to sustain a significant population. And we have already developed International Space Station technologies to recycle drinking water from the astronaut's shower, water, urine and sweat. It can even use the moisture from their breath. On the moon, this technology could create a closed-source water source for residents.
But even with recycling, Dyer said, these water supplies will not be endless; The recycling of water over and over again comes with some loss, so reserves will need to be replenished from time to time. What is more, extracting the moon's water by breaking the moon's rocks and dredging the ice from deep craters will require huge and expensive amounts of energy, Diar said.
"My personal feeling is that the colonization of the moon will depend on how we get hydrogen there," she said. Transportation would also be expensive: about $ 220,000 a kilogram, Landgraf said.
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Without knowing how much water is currently on the lunar surface, it is also difficult to judge how many people can sustain it. But at least we know that it is possible to provide a relatively sustainable water source. In any case, Landgraf considered that the Moon's pioneers would not need to use the Moon's water resources for at least the first five to 10 years of settlement; it will be cheap enough to transport water there and recycle it for the dozens of people who will call the moon their home for the first time.
As for lunar agriculture, we could mimic the conditions of cultivation of the Earth with "almost ecosystemically closed domes," Landgraf says. Nourished by long rays of sunlight and strewn with recycled water, lunar agriculture can be expanded to feed thousands. There is already an abundance of research suggesting that growing crops in space will work.
Throw Me On The Moon
There are still many unknowns about how we would actually do all this. But theoretically, natural resources could support tens of thousands, even millions, of the moon. So why aren't hundreds of us already staring at Earth?
Because the biggest restrictions on colonizing the moon are not necessarily the limitations of natural resources, Landgraf said, but the huge cost of transporting humans to spacecraft. Making it more economical will require bold technological leaps – such as the invention of space elevators . If we had one, "then we're talking about tens of thousands of people on the moon," Landgraf said. "So really, water is not the limit here. This is transportation. "
There is another warning, and here we come back to reality: for now, colonizing the moon is not really the goal. Of course, we could consider the moon as a kind of Noah's ark in the case of an earthly apocalypse. But at present, international space agencies view the moon not as a disaster relief, but as a research center – and a potential base from which to explore the rest of our solar system.
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With this approach, Langgraf said that we could look to Antarctica for clues to human habitation. Arguably the most lunar habitat on Earth, Antarctica is home to a fluctuating seasonal population of one to four thousand frostbite, dry-weather researchers to do their jobs. Because research is currently focused on planning for the lunar habitat, this gives us an idea of how many people can live on the moon realistically over the coming decades: several thousand at a time, not millions or billions.
Even this population is likely to shrink off, replaced by cheaper, more efficient robots in time, according to Dyar. "With technology being refined, there is very little reason why you really have to send a person to do research," she said.
However, this does not mean that our dreams of lunar citizenship are over. There is another factor: humanity's undoubted desire to explore . This may cause future generations to colonize the moon in millions or use it as a launching pad for other space expeditions.
"Humans are one of the few species to always explore, even if there is no need," Landgraf says. "[We’ve] was very successful with this strategy. Would it make sense to change that? I don't think so."
Originally published on Live Science .