Part 3 of 4 Parts (Please read Parts 1, 2 and 3 first)
In 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon. It ran an experiment involving a six-pound biosphere. Inside were a series of seeds, eggs, and dormant single-celled organisms. During the lunar day which lasts for fourteen Earth days, a cotton plant grew from a seed. This marked the first time an Earth seed had spouted on the Moon. Two leaves sprouted and the plant died when the lunar night fell, and temperatures plunged.
A possible resource that is extremely rare on Earth but very common on the surface of the Moon is helium-3. This isotope of helium is constantly bombarding the surface of the Moon as part of the solar wind. The Chinese recently discovered the helium-3 in lunar regolith will be much easier to extract that previously thought. Helium-3 is being considered by researchers as a possible fuel for nuclear fusion reactors. A company in Redmond, Washington named Helion Energy is working on a radical fusion reactor design that would utilize a combination of deuterium and helium-3. Helium-3 could be extracted from lunar regolith and shipped to Earth. This would be expensive, but the Helion reactor can recycle helium-3 so it would be part of construction and not a fuel that was constantly burned.
The success of these experiments, combined with the composition, location and other properties of the Moon make a strong case for the Moon to be the first world beyond the Earth where we should attempt to build an extraterrestrial civilization. If we ever hope to become a multi-planet species, there will be many lessons to learn, many obstacles to encounter and overcome, and many small steps to take before we are really ready for the big prize which will be to become an interstellar civilization. Even thought the space age only began in 1957, the largest obstacle to terraforming is the investment of resources. On the Moon, with no deleterious environmental factors, we will have the luxury of going “one dome at a time.”
If our goal is to terraform the Moon, we now have a blueprint for how to do it. Bring an airtight dome, fill it with breathable air, recover the water we need from a nearby lunar crater and bring the biota necessary to sustain life with us.
By following these steps, we could create our first long-term home for humanity beyond the confines of planet Earth. It could be built on the Moon’s near side, in constant communication with the Earth.
As long as we have sufficient battery power to sustain, heat, and possibly illuminate the environment during the long lunar nights, the first human extraterrestrial civilization is well within the realm of possibility. Rather than attempt to terraform an entire planet, going to the Moon would give us the luxury of terraforming only the areas of interest. For each world that’s out there, we only get one chance to do things correctly. When it comes to the question of terraforming, it would be foolish to not to take the easiest steps first.
Part 3 of 4 Parts (Please read Parts 1, 2 and 3 first)
Part 3 of 4 Parts (Please read Parts 1 and 2 first)
In terms of infrastructure and accessibility, there is really no contest between the Moon and Mars. The Moon is closer, always has a view of Earth, and can exchange signals and deliverables hundreds of times more quickly than could be exchanged between Earth and Mars. And, due to lower gravity, it is easier to land on and take off from the Moon. Certain infrastructure could be easily shared between the Earth and the Moon, including the Internet. Because of Mars’ remoteness, it would need its own infrastructure.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is location. On the Moon, solar power will be a great asset since there is no atmosphere, no cloud cover, and no absorption of radiation on the way down to the surface. A solar panel can be set up on the surface of the Moon and receive the same amount of incident radiation that would be received by an orbital platform. It would only need to have dust cleaned off the solar panels every few decades. Meanwhile, the incident solar flux on Mars is only forty three percent of what it is on the Moon. And that is being measured at the top of the Martian atmosphere. The solar energy that the Moon receives is about twice that received by Mars.
However, the best asset on the Moon is the lunar regolith. This is the dusty outer layer of soil found on the Moon. Mars has terrain that is varied in terms of composition, elevation, and dustiness versus compactness. Many analysts have compared it to the fresh basaltic soils found in Hawaii. However, the material found on the Moon is not just similar, it is actually the same as the material on the Earth.
It is theorized that the Moon and Earth were formed in the same ancient event which was a collision that kicked up debris. We know this because of samples brought back from the Moon and analyzed. The Earth and Moon have a common history in terms of their elementary composition, the chemical compositions of compounds on both and the isotope ratios of materials present. With the exception of the biological components found in the Earth’s topsoil, the regolith is identical in composition to the crust of the Earth.
If the materials on the surface of the Moon is identical to the materials that we have on Earth, this makes the prospect of terraforming the Moon a much easier job that we may have thought otherwise. If we bring a self-enclosed structure, the air necessary to fill it and the bacteria needed to properly enrich the soil, crushed lunar rock will make soil that is sufficient to begin lunar agriculture. There is a possibility that we will not have to bring our own water. Permanently shaded craters on the Moon are known to contain large amounts of frozen water. In 2008, researchers went to test out the suitability of using lunar soil to grow terrestrial plants by attempting in to grow marigolds. When the proper bacteria were added, the resulting plants were entirely healthy.
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Part 2 of 4 Parts (Please read Part 1 first)
Here is a short list of the problems that will face colonists on Mars. The Martian soil is very different from the soil on Earth. There is a great deal of silicon dioxide joined by highly oxidized elements including ferric oxide, aluminum oxide, calcium oxide and sulfur dioxide. The Martian atmosphere is a major obstacle to safely and precisely landing payloads on the Martian surface. It will also hinder any attempt to return packages or people back to Earth. The distance between Earth and Mars varies depending on where each is in their annual trips around the Sun. Even at the speed of light, a one-way communication between the Earth and Mars will take from seven to twenty-two minutes. Mars is very remote considering the delivery of resources. It will take from months to over a year to deliver a payload from Earth to Mars, depending on the configuration of the planets at any particular moment in time.
In contrast, the Moon is a much more favorable environment for colonization by many measures. A one-way journey to the Moon takes only a few days. Messages can be exchanged very quickly between the Earth and the Moon. A one-way message from Earth to the Moon would only take about one and a quarter seconds. An observer on the near side of the Moon could be in constant contact with Earth’s infrastructure. To communicate with any other body in the solar system, an orbital array would be required to allow communication when the Earth is invisible to that body’s surface.
Here are two similarities that the Moon and Mars have. Both worlds have large solar energy swings during their days and seasons. The surface gravity of both worlds is very low. Mars is about one third of Earth’s gravity while the Moon is about one sixth.
In many ways, the Moon is the top candidate for humanity’s first terraforming location. With respect to radiation, the Moon is definitely preferable to Mars. Both worlds have dead cores and surface magnetic fields that vary incoherently over the surface of both. Such fields offer negligible protection when compared to the Earth’s magnetosphere. The Moon and Mars do little to shield any surface dwellers from the particles and radiation emitted by the Sun.
It may seem that the Moon should receive more radiation from space than Mars. And the Moon lies outside of the protective Van Allen Belts that protect the Earth. However, in 2007, a detailed analysis indicated that the Earth’s magnetic field does an amazing job of shielding the Moon from the solar wind. It significantly reduces the levels of radiation that a surface dweller would receive. In addition, the Moon picks up a positive charge during the two-week lunar day. This charge slows down and reduces the harmful effects of protons and other positively charged ions. Therefore, there is less radiation hazard on the Moon than there is on Mars.
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Part 1 of 4 Parts
There has been a lot of media recently dedicated to colonizing Mars. Some critics of these plans say that it would make more sense to colonize the Moon first. The only way to prepare a world for human habitation is to make the environment more Earth-like which is referred to as “terraforming’. Some scientists in space industries believe that the Moon would be a better choice. It is close to Earth and has many factors that make it very appealing.
No matter how advanced our civilization on Earth becomes, we will still have to deal with the fact that Earth’s resources are finite. We usually think in terms of resources such as minerals, clear water, and breathable air. However, there is something that is even more fundamental and restrictive which is land area. No matter how thoroughly we develop, there is only a finite amount of inhabitable continental land area on Earth.
Although there may ultimately be floating cities on the seas and ocean, the finite land surface area of Earth ensures that we will have to leave our home planet if want our civilization to continue to expand. Many people have dreamed of living on another world. However, we have yet to find even a hint of life on any world beyond Earth. If we want a world suitable for use to live on, our only option will be to transform a presently uninhabitable planet into one that humans can survive on. We will have to terraform our new home. In spite of the popular sentiment that Mars is the best world to terraform, the Moon may be an even better option closer to home.
At first glance, it may appear that Mars is a much better choice for terraforming than the Moon. Mars already has large quantities of water on its surface. In the distant past, Mars had extensive liquid water on its surface. Mars is much larger than the Moon and it has a higher gravitational acceleration than the Moon does. Its atmosphere is thin but it is rich in carbon dioxide.
However, Mars also faces serious issues that the Moon does not. Mars is further from the Sun which means that it receives less energy from the Sun on every square meter of area. Mars’ atmosphere is a huge hazard with high winds, frequent sandstorms, and shifting dunes. Mars has no protective magnetic fields like Earth does. This means that it is bombarded by particles in the solar wind. If anyone living on the surface of Mars did not want to be given a lethal dose of radiation on timescales much less than a human lifetime, humans on Mars would have to move underground. The existence of huge lava tubes on Mars does make this a possibility.
None of these Martian issues is insurmountable. With a big enough investment of resources, almost anything is possible. However, the more resources that you have to bring with you to Mars in order to survive and thrive and to protect you from the harmful effects of all threats, the more difficult this will be.
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