The moon is our rock in more ways than one: Not only is it craggy, it’s our anchor, moderating Earth’s wobble and other planetary cycles, like tides. This winter, the European Space Agency (ESA) gathered to figure out what the moon’s next big role will be in the next 15 years. The consensus: It needs to make a comeback.
A moon colony has been a part of the ESA’s vision for a while, piloted by the agency’s head, Johann-Dietrich Woerner. The station would be a successor to the International Space Station (ISS), which will near the end of its tenure close to 2028.
During the most recent symposium, held in the Netherlands, more than 200 scientists and officials coalesced to discern just what the moon has to offer. It could host telescopes, for instance, which would allow us to see deeper into the cosmos without as much pesky background noise.
And as a global amalgamation of humans and robotics, it would also be a literal stepping stone for deeper exploration. A recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that a pit stop to refuel on the moon would whittle down the total mass to be launched from Earth. Another review points out that extracting and using lunar resources has to potential to be economically beneficial.
“A moon village shouldn’t just mean some houses, a church and a town hall,” Woerner told BBC Future. “This moon village should mean partners from all over the world contributing to this community with robotic and astronaut missions and support communication satellites.”
To first build the outpost on the moon’s dusty surface, researchers would enable 3D printers and some crafty robotics, which could use lunar soil and other raw materials as resources. Architects Foster + Partners, who were tapped for the ESA design, imagine a dome design with a hollow, closed-cell structure, much like bird bones.
But the moon still needs to be poked and prodded for an ideal base location — and whether local materials could actually be used to build a sustainable structure. A thread that emerged from the meeting, however, is that the time to start is now.