A modern day “giant leap for mankind!”
You may have heard that NASA is currently searching for its next cohort of astronauts — ones who will go to Mars — but if you’d prefer a closer destination, the European Space Agency (ESA) might be for you.
At the International Symposium on Moon 2020–2030 in the Netherlands in December 2015, the ESA announced their plans to begin building a moon colony as early as five years from now.
"The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars," NASA’s Kathy Laurini told Leonard David at Space.com. "The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives and ensure it remains a strong partner as humans begin to explore the solar system."
A lunar base could do more than just make it possible to explore the moon. It could also provide a jumping off point for future missions to Mars. In fact, last December, NASA also announced their intent to leave the International Space Station (ISS) to look at building in a similar location — they are planning for a cislunar station.
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The head of ESA, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, is keen on a lunar base being as international a project as the ISS. If humans want to go further than we ever have before — back to the moon and then to Mars — we’re going to need to work together.
In 2013, the ESA determined that building structures on the moon would best be done using local materials, as it would drastically reduce transportation costs. “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” added Scott Hovland of ESA’s human spaceflight team.
However, our moon is still fairly mysterious to us. Twelve humans have set foot there and robots have studied the rock, but there is still much to learn. “We keep talking about lunar resources, but we still need to demonstrate they can be used … [that] they are, in fact, reserves. So ground truth verification of deposit size, composition, form and homogeneity requires a coordinated prospecting program. A successful program would then clearly demonstrate that lunar resources can enable solar system exploration," engineer Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame who attended the Dutch symposium told Space.com.
As Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston told Space.com, he sees three possibilities for lunar exploration: A single nation will colonize it, it will be an international effort, or private American space companies will get there first. Regardless, exciting times are coming!