Dream on: Lunar pioneers reach for the stars

A BRANCH of science that has been languishing for decade will be revived. In the 1970s, the Moon was declared dry (by the Apollo missions, which landed on the equivalent of the Equator) and Mars declared dead (by the Viking landers).

People who wanted us to set up permanent bases on both those bodies were turned back from their grand plans, as others asked: why spend billions of dollars or pounds of public money to go to places which are so hostile, and useless?

In the past 18 months though, Mars has been declared to have had life (at least, scientists reckoned so) and now the Moon to have water.

Suddenly, space travel is back on the agenda. For not only does the Moon have water at its poles, but planetary geologists reckon there is water at Mars's poles too.

Water matters because humans need at least two litres a day to survive. However, carrying it out of the Earth's gravitational field is very expensive because it is heavy and can't be compressed: two litres of water will always take up two litres of space and weigh two kilograms. Raising that out of the Earth's gravity will cost pounds 14,000 in fuel. Providing enough for a permanent lunar colony would require regular supply ships and that makes a base on a dry Moon impractical.

But if there is water already there, everything changes. "When you're thinking of a permanent lunar base, this makes it possible," said Dr Ellen Stofan, a Nasa scientist who is planning studies for water on Mars.

Ice can be melted for drinking; and it can be electrolysed (using the free solar power) into oxygen for breathing, and hydrogen as a rocket fuel.

"It's terribly exciting in terms of potential, as a science base if nothing else." It would be a perfect site for astronomical observation: if you thought the Hubble Space Telescope produced impressive pictures, wait until there's a Moon Observatory.

But it's not the science value that people see. The Moon could be used as an assembly base for new rockets which would take off for more distant targets: initially Mars, but in time even further afield.

A low-gravity base would be an ideal staging post on the way to other planets. For instance, a Mars mission could send its rocket to the Moon partly-fuelled, or even partly-built; then you could finish building it in low gravity. "Anything that we don't have to lift out of the Earth's gravity is a saving," said Dr Stofan.

A further advantage is that if something goes wrong, it's easier to escape from the Moon than from a mission to Mars. "It's only three days away," explained Dr Stofan. "You can bail out more easily - it's a whole different thing if you're eight or nine months out."

How soon will it arrive, and how big will it be? That depends on how easy it is to build reliable shelters - safe from meteorites - and to mine the ice. Certainly, by the middle of the next century there will be something permanent there.

How much will it cost? Certainly, billions. "It will take an international effort," said Dr Stofan. "But I think that's the way everybody would want to do it." However, she doesn't see it supplanting the present efforts to build an International Space Station to replace the aging Mir. "The space station is the first step in working outside the Earth's atmosphere," said Dr Stofan. "But you have to do it slowly. We've never tried to build anything in space. People forget how complex it is: they see Star Trek on TV and think 'Oh, we're there already'. Really, it's much more complicated, and we have to do it one step at a time."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders