Discovery of water in the soil at the lunar poles by Chandrayaan-1 (ISRO) in 2008–09 renewed interest in the Moon, after NASA missions in the 1990s suggested the presence of lunar ice. Locating a colony at one of the lunar poles would also avoid the problem of long lunar nights—about 354 hours long, half a lunar month—and allow the colony to take advantage of the continuous sunlight there for generating solar power.
Permanent human habitation on a planetary body other than the Earth is one of science fiction’s most prevalent themes. As technology has advanced, and concerns about the future of humanity on Earth have increased, the vision of space colonization as an achievable and worthwhile goal has gained momentum. Because of its proximity to Earth, the Moon is seen by many as the best and most obvious location for the first permanent human space colony. Currently, the main problem hindering the development of such a colony is the high cost of human spaceflight.
There are also several projects that have been proposed for tourism on the Moon in the near future by private space companies.
The notion of a lunar colony originated before the Space Age. In 1638, Bishop John Wilkins wrote A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another Planet, in which he predicted a human colony on the Moon. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935), among others, also suggested such a step.
From the 1950s onwards, a number of more concrete concepts and designs have been suggested by scientists, engineers and others. In 1954, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed a lunar base of inflatable modules covered in lunar dust for insulation. A spaceship assembled in low Earth orbit would launch to the Moon, and astronauts would set up the igloo-like modules and an inflatable radio mast. Subsequent steps would include the establishment of a larger, permanent dome; an algae-based air purifier; a nuclear reactor for the provision of power; and electromagnetic cannons to launch cargo and fuel to interplanetary vessels in space.
In 1959, John S. Rinehart suggested that the safest design would be a structure that could “[float] in a stationary ocean of dust”, since there were, at the time this concept was outlined, theories that there could be mile-deep dust oceans on the Moon. The proposed design consisted of a half-cylinder with half-domes at both ends, with a micrometeoroid shield placed above the base.
The United States space administration NASA has requested an increase in the 2020 budget of $1.6 billion, in order to make another crewed mission to the Moon by 2024, followed by a sustained presence on the Moon by 2028. NASA is ready to announce plans to bring together a Commercial Human Lander Awards for Artemis Missions on the Moon. This specific program, “The Artemis Program,” encompasses NASA’s overview for lunar exploration plans. This announcement will go over the first in a series of many more to come complex missions. Artemis I will start off as an un-crewed flight test to demonstrate the capabilities of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft. The first flight with a crew will be Artemis II, closely followed by Artemis III that will actually land crew on the moon by the end of 2024 using a new commercially-procured Human Landing System (HLS). They hope to develop a sustainable lunar exploration program starting from 2028.
Billionaire Jeff Bezos has outlined his plans for a lunar base in the 2020s. Independently, SpaceX plans to send Starship to the Moon to establish a base.
In March 2019 NASA unveiled the Artemis program’s mission to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2024, in response to a directive by President Trump, along with plans to establish an outpost in 2028. However, existing plans delay the proposed mission to 2028 with a base established in the 2030s.
There have been numerous proposals regarding habitat modules. The designs have evolved throughout the years as humankind’s knowledge about the Moon has grown, and as the technological possibilities have changed. The proposed habitats range from the actual spacecraft landers or their used fuel tanks, to inflatable modules of various shapes. Some hazards of the lunar environment such as sharp temperature shifts, lack of atmosphere or magnetic field (which means higher levels of radiation and micrometeoroids) and long nights, were unknown early on. Proposals have shifted as these hazards were recognized and taken into consideration.
Some suggest building the lunar colony underground, which would give protection from radiation and micrometeoroids. This would also greatly reduce the risk of air leakage, as the colony would be fully sealed from the outside except for a few exits to the surface.
The construction of an underground base would probably be more complex; one of the first machines from Earth might be a remote-controlled excavating machine. Once created, some sort of hardening would be necessary to avoid collapse, possibly a spray-on concrete-like substance made from available materials. A more porous insulating material also made in-situ could then be applied. Rowley & Neudecker have suggested “melt-as-you-go” machines that would leave glassy internal surfaces. Mining methods such as the room and pillar might also be used. Inflatable self-sealing fabric habitats might then be put in place to retain air. Eventually an underground city can be constructed. Farms set up underground would need artificial sunlight. As an alternative to excavating, a lava tube could be covered and insulated, thus solving the problem of radiation exposure. An alternative solution is studied in Europe by students to excavate a habitat in the ice-filled craters of the Moon.