Science fiction writers have long envisioned people living on the moon, perhaps in underground chambers. For the past two years, the European Space Agency (ESA) has been trying to figure out how to make a permanent settlement happen sometime after 2050. With the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM), they have honed conceptual plans and designs for a self-sufficient Moon Village at the rim of the Shackleton Crater on the Moon’s south pole. Recently, the partnership expanded to study how actual living modules would function.
The team settled on the crater because the area offers both total sunlight and total darkness. Within the sections of the crater that never receive light, there is ample ice that can be harvested to create breathable air and rocket propellant for transportation. The village itself would be set on the rim of the crater, which receives light nearly all lunar year. The development would rely on the sun to generate energy and grow food.
ESA realized that an interdisciplinary team of scientists and astro-planners, designers, and engineers would be needed to make the Moon livable. They brought in the expertise of the European Astronaut Centre and the European Space Research and Technology Centre, while MIT has involved its aerospace engineering department, and SOM, its architecture, planning, and engineering divisions.
SOM design partner Colin Koop said: “the Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.”
The team envisions clusters of modules that would be connected to enable “seamless mobility between structures” like a giant lunar ant farm.
Each module would be a 3-4-story structure made up of pressurized work spaces, living quarters, and life support systems where 4-6 Moon residents would live.
The modules are enclosed by three structural columns, built out of lunar regolith, and an inflatable outer shell. According to SOM, “these inflatable structures would provide—together with regolith-based protective shells—resistance to extreme temperatures, projectiles, regolith dust, and solar radiation.”
Like ESA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is also looking to “long-term exploration and utilization” of the Moon and other planets, as are the space services of China and India.
NASA hopes to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024 with its Artemis mission, but this time send them to the South Pole, perhaps to scope out the best real estate.