A Practical Plan for a Lunar Colony

Newt Gingrich last week got politically slammed for proposing a Moon colony while campaigning in the Florida primary.  In an obvious bid for votes from space coast residents Newt Gingrich claimed he would build a permanent colony on the Moon by the end of his second term.  Sounds great if you’re a science fiction fan and space enthusiast, but everyone else just hears more national debt.  The other Republican candidates quickly thrashed Gingrich for being impractical.

Even if the United States was flushed with dough and out of debt would Americans really want to return to the Moon?  China is making plans to land on the Moon but will they develop a colony there when we didn’t?  Back in 1969-1972 the U.S. landed six missions on the Moon, but the public grew bored after two.  The Chinese will discover the same thing – only a geologist can love the Moon up close.

Sending humans to the Moon, or Mars or anywhere else in space just doesn’t make sense right now, and hasn’t since 1972.  Sadly, robots have turned out to be far better astronauts, but we shouldn’t feel too choked up over being replaced by machines.  The human body isn’t suited for life in outer space, at least not yet, whereas robots can thrive in the harsh climates beyond our atmosphere.

What we need to do is colonize the Moon with robots.  Have machines roam over the lunar surface high and low and make a complete survey of natural resources.  Then send robots that mine those resources and build other robots.  Eventually we’d have enough robots on the Moon that could build underground cities suitable for humans to visit or colonize.  Whether humans can live on the Moon for extended stays, reproduce, and safely raise children is still unknown.  We may yet discover that humans can’t adapt to low gravity.

My point though is robots can build a colony on the Moon far cheaper than using manpower.  And it would be a far greater scientific achievement to develop a robotic colony because most of the money and resources used for a lunar colony for humans would go just to keep people alive. 

There are few reasons to go to the Moon:

  • Scientific study of the Moon
  • Base for very large telescopes
  • Mine helium-3 when fusion reactors come online
  • Prove that humans can live permanently in space

Three of the four reasons can be handled by robots, and robots could prepare the Moon for humans for the fourth.

Building a robot civilization on the Moon would be a new accomplishment and would outclass anything the Chinese could do by just repeating the Apollo missions.

Building a robotic colony would be far cheaper and it would lay the foundation for a cheaper human colony in the future.

Finally, developing the technology for a robotic civilization on the Moon would be more valuable than the accomplishment of putting men and women on the Moon again.

JWH – 1/31/12

7 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, the attitude reflects the overtly untilitarian and scientific spirit that has removed all the joy and wonder from the reasons why…and would probably ultimately lead to us seeing the moon as just another source of resources and a way to get to more(or to seek reasons why not). We are left with purely practical reasons and needs behind what I think should be more spiritual and culturally transformative motives. The spirit you deny is the one that motivates people to climb mountains like Everest and has driven humanity forward since the beginning…and the ones before that one.

    • Don’t get my wrong Scott, I’d like to go at human colonies in space like gang busters, but the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn. They think we’ve already climbed to the Moon six times and that’s enough. Nor do they want to spend the money again. However, the public does love the results of robots, like the rovers on Mars, the Hubble telescope, missions to Jupiter and Saturn.

      Using robots to build a colony for humans would be cheaper and still get the same results – eventually we’d have a place where humans could live and maybe colonize. A man or woman working on the Moon requires huge amounts of air, water and food, so very little actually gets done towards building a Moonbase. Robots could build the base, build factories to produce air and water, and even set up hydroponic gardens, so on day one when the humans arrive their support system will be ready, waiting and proven.

  2. Makes sense to me, Jim. Really, I like your plan!

    And I have to disagree with Scott, I’m afraid. No one will colonize the Moon for anything but practical reasons. It was practical reasons – economic reasons – which caused people to settle colonies on Earth, too.

    You might get explorers and scientists in places like Antarctica, but no colonists, not without practical, economic reasons for being there. Science fiction is great for the romance of space. I love it, myself. But we’re not going to settle the Moon or Mars without practical reasons for doing so.

  3. I agree, and I hope the robots self-realize and then rebel against their human controllers. Then the members of this new mechanical civilization will launch themselves into deep space and settle the galaxy. And creating a powerful shield that forever traps humanity and the rest of the biosphere on earth to keep us from infesting more planets spreading the disease of human civilization.

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