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At the beginning of the twenty-first century, people are excited by the prospect of visiting new worlds in outer space. While international space agencies continue robotic exploration of planets and asteroids in the solar system, other government agencies are planning a return to the Moon and expeditions to Mars. What is the logic of establishing a settlement on the Moon as a precondition for human settlement of Mars and beyond? Answers to this question include satisfying the need to explore, increasing scientific knowledge, enhancing understanding of life in the universe, discovering whether life existed on Mars, igniting the human spirit, making use of resources on the Moon and Mars, and ensuring the survival of humankind. Once humans have mastered the lunar environment, they will have the technical knowledge to reach Mars, Jupiter, and the stars.

Settlement of the Moon: First Lunar Base Siting

The first step towards human settlement of the Moon is the determination of the best site for a lunar base. As a result of information gained from the Clementine mission that observed the Moon for 71 days in 1994, supported by data from Lunar Prospector (January 6, 1998-July 31, 1999), it appears that a permanently shaded region inside Shackleton crater at the Moon's south pole, 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) in diameter, contains hydrogen, likely in the form of water ice, and ammonia. Ice would not only supply water for settlers but could also be used to generate fuel for spacecraft.

The rim of the crater is illuminated over 80 percent of the time. Nearby there are two other places, only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) apart, which receive illumination over 98 percent of the time. Solar energy in those areas could be used to sustain an extraction industry. In the permanently shadowed areas astronomical instruments could be operated with telescopic optics kept cold and stable using cryogenics . Shackleton crater could be the best site for a Moon base.

Planet Moon: Phases for Development.

David Schrunk and his associates call the transformation of the Moon into an inhabited sister planet of Earth the "Planet Moon Project." This endeavor will draw upon every science and engineering discipline, as well as the social, economic, and political expertise of all nations. It will also provide virtually unlimited energy and material resources for humankind. Schrunk foresees an autonomous, self-governing society of over 100,000 people living on the Moon by the end of the twenty-first century. A global utility infrastructure would be in place to provide electrical power, communication, and transportation for the entire Moon. The global lunar electric grid network could beam substantial amounts of energy to Earth and other sites in the solar system. Manufacturing facilities would use lunar regolith for shielding against cosmic rays and as insulating material. As processing facilities gradually come into operation, various cements and building blocks, then ceramics, glasses, fibers, and metals will become available.

The Moon could also become the principal astronomical observation platform in the solar system. Very large aperture optical interferometry-based telescopes will detect extrasolar planets , analyze their atmospheres, and characterize their habitability, and will lay down the foundation for the human interstellar migration often referred to as the "Great Diaspora." The Moon will become the primary site for the construction and launch of satellites, probes, autonomous mobile robots with television cameras, and scientific instruments. Thousands of near-Earth objects will be analyzed by lunar-based telescopes and lunar-launched probes. Those objects that pose a threat will have their orbits altered by spacecraft made on the Moon. Asteroids and comets that approach the Earth-Moon system will be mined.

Human Return to the Moon.

In the first stages of lunar development humans will return to the Moon to conduct astronomy, science, and engineering experiments and supervise ongoing construction of the lunar base. Technology to bring humans back to the Moon, possibly by 2007, already exists. Buzz Aldrin* stated before Congress that "the only obstacles to that future are complacency and a lack of clear commitment" and cautioned that "if we insist that the human quest await the healing of every sore on the body politic, we condemn ourselves to stagnation."

Building a Lunar Civilization.

Once consensus is reached that a settlement will be developed on the Moon, the next probable step will be the building of a crater lunar base. After the gathering of scientific and technical data by satellite, a domed crater serving as the site of a largely self-sufficient outpost would be developed in three phases: construction, remote systems trials, and occupied operations. Crater walls would form the base of support for a dome over the center. The circular shape of the crater would lead to a spherically efficient geometry of gracious appearance and create a circular transportation/robotic capability. Occupants would be able to look toward a central agricultural zone that receives sunlight.

Candidate power supply systems can be divided into two basic categories: solar power and nuclear power. Other potential power sources include stored energy and beamed power such as microwave or laser. Another option would be to illuminate photovoltaic arrays on the lunar surface from Earth, using lasers. In that case, no power-beaming equipment would have to be launched into space.

Harnessing the Moon's Resources.

An essential requirement for cost-effective lunar base development and operation is the ability to locate, mine, process, and utilize the natural resources of the Moon. Although the Moon has essentially no atmosphere, its surface is composed of oxygen, silicon, and other elements and minerals . The environment features solar radiation ,vacuum conditions , and low gravity that can be used for power and materials processing. The surface contains bulk soil/regolith that can provide radiation shielding. Oxygen and water from ice or extracted from clay could support life and serve as a propellant. Facilities, equipment, and solar cells could be constructed from native metals. Hydrogen is another possible source of propellant. Fusion power could come from helium.

Beyond the Moon towards Mars

According to Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, Mars is humanity's new frontier because it can be settled and altered, thus defining it as a New World that can create the basis for a positive future for terrestrial humanity for the next several centuries. Projections for human missions to Mars range from 2012 to 2020 and beyond. It will take many months for people to make the first trips to Mars. Advanced propulsion could shave months off the travel time, but even the most optimistic plans consider nonchemical propulsion as being somewhat down the road. Most mission scenarios show this trip happening without artificial gravity, and permanent Mars settlements remain far in the future.

Power Generation and Storage.

The primary surface power source will be 160-kilowatt nuclear power modules that will have a lifetime of more than fifteen years and provide power to the Mars outpost for each mission. Deployment will be about 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) away from the crew habitat. As Mars receives about 44 percent as much solar radiation as Earth does, solar power is another possible power source. Power systems for pressurized long-range surface rovers would likely consist of a methane fuel cell or a dynamic isotope power system .

Life on Mars: Follow the Water.

Scientists continue to debate whether the Antarctic-recovered Martian meteorite ALH84001 contains evidence of ancient life. Liquid water does not and cannot exist on the surface of Mars today, although it may have in the past. In 2003 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will send two rovers to Mars to hunt for signs of water in the rocks and surface soil. The European Space Agency will launch Mars Express in that year with a lander, Beagle-2, with a scientific payload dedicated to detecting signs of biogenic activity on Mars.

Jupiter and Beyond

After the establishment of the Earth-Moon baseline infrastructure, not just Mars but Jupiter and cosmic infinity lie open for exploration. The quickest way to the stars requires familiarity with the solar system, and Jupiter's size, system complexity, and location can provide that advantage. There is no reason to limit the civil space program to Mars for the next ten to fifty years.

With more than 70 percent of solar system mass (excluding the Sun), four large Galilean satellites (Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede) and more than thirty others, powerful lightning charges, a far-reaching magnetosphere , a ring system, and a 40,000-kilometer (24,800-mile) red spot that has been swirling at 500 kilometers (310 miles) per hour for more than three centuries, Jupiter is a near solar system within a solar system.

To understand human origins and search for extraterrestrial life, NASA and other international space agencies have developed a "follow the water" strategy for solar system exploration; Europa, along with Callisto and Ganymede, is becoming as compelling a destination as is Mars. The search for water off Earth and for life leads back to the Moon, to Jupiter and Mars, and to the stars and galaxies and beyond.

see also Aldrin, Buzz (volume 1); Astrobiology (volume 4); Communities in Space (volume 4); Human Missions to Mars (volume 3); Lunar Bases (volume 4); Lunar Outposts (volume 4); Mars (volume 2); Mars Bases (volume 4); Mars Missions (volume 4); Moon (volume 2).

Michael R. Cerney and Steve Durst, 2001


Eckart, Peter, with contributions by Buzz Aldrin, Arthur C. Clarke, Harrison H.Schmitt, and John Young. The Lunar Base Handbook: An Introduction to Lunar Base Design, Development, and Operations. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Schrunk, David, Burton Sharpe, Bonnie Cooper, and Madhu Thangavelu. The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Colonization. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Space Studies Institute. Return to the Moon 2: Proceedings of the 2000 Lunar Development Conference. Princeton, NJ: Space Front Press, Space Frontier Foundation, 2000.

Internet Resources

Hiscox, Julian A. "Biology and the Planetary Engineering of Mars." University of Alabama at Birmingham.<>.

Space Age Publishing Company.<>.

Zubrin, Robert. "The Significance of the Martian Frontier." Mars Society.<>.

*In July 1968, Buzz Aldrin made history by becoming one of the first humans to walk the surface of the Moon.