This month [in 2019], there has been a never-ending parade of Apollo 11 50-year retrospectives. Meanwhile, a slew of nations, including India, China, and Japan, have used robotic probes to retrace Apollo’s path to the Moon. What can we expect when humanity finally return to the Moon?
Take me to the Moon
As Apollo 11 demonstrated, it is possible to fly from Earth to the Moon in less than four days. The Moon is close enough to Earth that it is shielded from cosmic rays that attack spaceships traveling beyond our neighborhood. Over the course of a month, the Moon keeps one side always facing Earthwards; as it rotates, each location on its surface experiences sunlight for half of its orbit, 14 days, then spins out of the sunlight for another 14 days. Because the Moon is significantly smaller than the Earth, the force of gravity at its surface is just one-sixth of what we experience here on Earth. Because there isn’t enough gravity to sustain an atmosphere, the surface is a near-perfect vacuum.
Moon rocks for entertainment and profit
We should be able to discover regions rich in minerals that could be used for manufacturing as we learn more about lunar geology. Even now, start-ups are investigating how manufacturing in a vacuum with 14-day periods of solar power may alter the economic equation. For human visitors, the absence of air and water is an issue, yet it can be beneficial to science and manufacturing.
Water ice has been discovered at the bottom of certain craters near the lunar poles, which are always in darkness, although certain lunar mountains near the polar areas are always in sunlight. There is only so much ice or sunlit mountains to go around, therefore the poles may become intensely coveted among different nations. The rules of physics are the same on the Moon as they are on Earth, as are the temptations of greed, envy, and so on.
For years, astronomers have been enthusiastic by the potential of constructing observatories on the Moon.
With no clouds or light pollution bouncing off the atmosphere, and no midday sky full of blue light, you may expect non-stop ideal optical telescope observing as long as you avoid staring too close to the Sun or Earth during the moon daylight. Even better, radio telescopes built on the Moon’s far side will be constantly insulated from terrestrial radio waves, which are a growing source of interference on Earth.
Fly me in the Moon!
When lava flooded the deep basins to form the flat dark “mare” regions (the markings known as the “man in the moon”), it left behind long lava tubes that are now empty caves. Stop the ends of the tubes, fill them with oxygen (torn from the surrounding rock by the copious solar electric power), and these tubes would be ideal for establishing a lunar colony. Aside from the lunar manufacturers, astronomers, and other scientists, these would provide an excellent home for folks whose age or infirmities make living in Earth’s gravity difficult.
In fact, science fiction author Robert Heinlein once authored a narrative centered on an even more audacious usage of these sites. Imagine living in one of those pressurized caves, hundreds of meters long and broad. You could strap on a set of wings, flap your arms, and fly with the Moon’s low gravity and enough air pressure!