Technology and innovation continue apace and the idea of manned lunar base is far from dead
On average, the Moon is 384,400 kilometres (239,000 miles) away from us, and is a mere hop away compared to the rest of the major objects in our Solar System. Yet, even after landing on its surface in 1969 the dream of establishing a permanent base there has so far eluded us.
The idea of a permanent base was proposed during the Cold War, when the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency envisaged creating a 12-man military outpost that would be protected by missiles and used for Earth surveillance. Peaceful options include using a base to exploit lunar resources, as a springboard for launching expeditions to the rest of the Solar System, and for fostering international scientific research and collaboration.
There was a distinct possibility of creating a lunar base when NASA revealed its Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. This proposed building a base near one of the lunar poles, between 2019 and 2024. It was intended to study lunar geology and consider the feasibility of using lunar resources for construction. Another major goal was to use this as a base for assembling and launching spacecraft to Mars. This project was cancelled in 2010.
Nonetheless, other countries have come up with new schemes. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, in 2010, announced that it was investing $2.2 billion (£1.4 billion) to send robotic rovers and androids to the Moon. These would collect detailed information about the lunar environment with a view to creating a robot colony on the Moon by 2020. Manned missions and the establishment of an International Lunar Base would then follow.
The Chinese space agency is running a long-term Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP), which intends to launch lunar manned missions by 2030. One objective would be to create a base where the rare helium-3 isotope could be mined. Russia also has plans for a Moon base to be created by 2032.
Most Moon base concepts consist of modules supplied from Earth that could be connected together and improved over time. Lunar materials could then be mined and used for construction purposes. This would enable bases to be built underground or inside craters, which would provide a constant temperature and better protection against cosmic radiation and meteorite strikes. Power would be supplied by solar panels and fuel cells, or by nuclear fission reactors. Ice deposits discovered at the lunar north pole might also be extracted and used by future colonists.
Recently the European Space Agency and the Foster + Partners architectural firm have put forward the idea of using 3D printing to create a lunar base.
A large tubular frame would be sent to the location from Earth, and then robots would pulp and spray raw lunar material over it to create an igloo-like structure that can house four people.