Where's My Lunar Colony?
Even though humans have had a continuous presence in space for over a decade at the International Space Station, moving onto the surface of the moon or Mars poses challenges that bubble-like domed cities can't solve. Innovations like suitcase-sized nuclear reactors may help, but Moon colonies remain a long ways away.
Besides power, residents on the Moon or Mars would need oxygen, food, medical supplies and shielding from cosmic radiation and asteroid impacts.
"If you need oxygen in space, you have to break it down from carbon dioxide," said Dennis Chamberland, a NASA engineer at the John F. Kennedy Space Center who has worked on issues such as energy and waste streams in space . "In space, you can't afford to generate a waste stream of any kind."
Chamberland, who also works on a separate project related to undersea colonization, said that while many problems, such as getting oxygen, are solvable underwater they are magnified in both complexity and cost when you move it beyond Earth.
Carbon dioxide removal, or converting it into oxygen is extremely expensive. But so is everything else. The ISS, which is a satellite, is extremely expensive, yet it is relatively close to Earth.
"A moon colony is even more expensive," Chamberland told InnovationNewsDaily. He said it costs about $3,000 per pound to haul things into orbit. And you're going to need a lot of things.
Besides the technology to provide oxygen and deal with any waste that's produced, there is an issue of cosmic radiation. Unlike living underwater, or even on the ISS, explorers on Mars wouldn't be able to come home more than every three years, at most. The effects of cosmic radiation exposure for those lengths of time are just not known at this time, but even the best case projections envision serious health effects.
Given the shut down of the shuttle program, there is simply not even an appetite to attempt exploration or colonization on the scale that would be needed to set up any sort of extraterrestrial base. The challenges are immense, but the price tag would be astronomical.
"The fact that we made it to the Moon in the first place is a miracle," Chamberland said.