Mister Pterodactyl
Sunday, May 16, 2004
How about something a little less depressing?

It’s about time we got serious about that moon base. Allow me to get the ball rolling (or at least to pretend I am).

Keep in mind; this is not something that requires an enormous amount of money or effort right away. This project is going to take a long, long time so it’s something we can do (and plan for) incrementally.

There are three initial elements.
The space station: The International Space Station currently in orbit will serve for now, but future ones can be much less complex. All that’s needed is a living area on one end, with exercise and sanitation facilities, attached to a large bay area with (at least) two docking ports.
I’ve been considering whether the station should spin for simulated gravity. It would be preferable that the docking area not spin; it would make docking with the station a lot more difficult. Possibly just the living quarters could spin, or the entire station could spin and stop itself for docking procedures. This is adding a lot of complexity, so for now I’m using the no-spin model. The residents of the ISS are dealing with it. [Note: the ISS has a centrifuge capable of producing simulated gravity up to 2x Earth normal. Perhaps the living quarters could be located in a similar, larger centrifuge in the new station.]
Putting on spacesuits is onerous. Not only is the suit itself complicated, the air pressure inside is only one-third of Earth normal, so that lengthy preparation is needed to avoid pressure sickness (the bends). Therefore the entire station, including the docking area, will be pressurized. This will require airlocks at both docks and between the living and docking areas as a safety precaution. Low gravity in the docking area will make loading/unloading procedures easier.

Station-to-moon transport: This is the one component that’s completely new – a spaceplane capable of docking with the station and of landing on and taking off from the moon’s surface. The most important thing about this is that it will never have to enter an atmosphere (no need for aerodynamics or heat shielding), so it probably won’t resemble an airplane at all. Also, it won’t have to deal with gravity stronger than the moon’s. It will need considerable cargo space as well as room for passengers; I envision something like a larger version of the old Apollo landers.

Earth-to-station transport: a return vehicle will be necessary – the American shuttle or Russian Soyuz will serve, and the EU is in the process of developing a pilotless version – if only because the station and spaceplane will have to be manned. Most flights, though, will be carrying supplies for the lunar colonists and can be one-way. For this, I’m thinking of something similar to the old booster rockets, intended solely for lifting supplies and equipment to the space station, there to be transferred to the spaceplane for transport to the moon. All it has to do is escape Earth’s gravity and rendezvous with the station, so it probably can be unmanned, run by computer and docked by remote control. When we start sending people along with cargo, they may have to be modified to lessen the stress of acceleration.
After docking and unloading, the booster can be returned to Earth or dismantled and its parts reused, whichever is more cost efficient. I’m guessing it’ll be the latter.

Most of the technology for these components already exists, as does the expertise living and working in space. We’ll want several of each ready to go; once we’ve actually got people on the moon, we can’t have something going wrong and stranding them.

Next up, early moon colonists.

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