Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How to build a Moon base (nature.com)
131 points by lainon 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

There's a great book called "Welcome to Moonbase" by Ben Bova (1987) written from the perspective of an established colony on the moon providing an information handbook for someone recently relocated to live and work there. A lot of ground is covered, from governance, technology, buildings, recreation, mining, food, farming. I have fond memories of reading this book, and this article reminded me of it. I think about that book often, it was, like this article, very inspiring. It's interesting to see how the ideas about moon habitation have, and have not, changed over the past 30 years. The mention of "3d printing" the building structures in this piece, for example.

I would expect tunneling to take the place of printing buildings, for a couple of reasons. First, you can process the tunnel machine tailings for resources like water ice, which you can then use for air and fuel and biology. Second, you can live in the tunnels, which would give you as many meters of regolith as radiation shielding as you wanted. And, interesting side fact, the Boring Company TBM will fit inside a BFR.



TBMs are heavy. While the Boring Company TBM can fit inside a BFR, the BFR does not have enough payload capacity to lift it. The TBM weighs around 1100 metric tons[0], while BFR's payload capacity is 100 metric tons. Water ice has only been confirmed to exist in permanently shadowed craters. We know it's there, we aren't sure what form it's in. Printing could be used to directly do processing. In the printing processes they outlined, regolith is heated up and melted. This is enough to drive out any volatiles including water from the regolith all one has to do is provide a means for capturing them. This might involve printing in a bubble or having a cold trap near where the regolith is melted. Of course the big question is how much benefit there is to printing structures on the moon vs. shipping up structures from earth. A promising approach is to bury structures launched from earth. Where we send up as lightweight a habitat as possible and use the regolith for radiation shielding. One very interesting means of burying structures on the Moon is to make a rover that goes around mining regolith and when it's full, uses a catapult to throw the regolith on top of the habitat[1]. Because gravity is low and there's no atmosphere, regolith can be transported quite far ballisticaly. [0]https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=42143.140 [1]https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/199300...

Interesting. I just finished The God's Themselves by Asimov and the moon colony was all underground in that book.

It was also underground in the Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Heinlein)

20th century science fiction should always be taken as a how to guide for space colonisation. Now about that FTL transport.

The links you posted show that 1/2m of slightly compacted regolith provide adequate protection from most radiation. It might be that 3d printing some components and burying them in regolith is much easier than large-scale excavation, at least during the first years of a hypothetical colony.

> the Boring Company TBM will fit inside a BFR.

Interesting. So far, there has been a lot of synergy between Musk's companies. But I failed to understand where the Boring Company fit (other than the obvious and boring 'tunnels for cars' angle).

IIRC Musk even talked about underground transports on Mars.

> Furthermore, shallow moonquakes lasted a remarkably long time. Once they got going, all continued more than 10 minutes. "The moon was ringing like a bell," Neal says.

> The moon, however, is dry, cool and mostly rigid, like a chunk of stone or iron. So moonquakes set it vibrating like a tuning fork. Even if a moonquake isn't intense, "it just keeps going and going," Neal says. And for a lunar habitat, that persistence could be more significant than a moonquake's magnitude.

The dryness of the Moon presents an interesting challenge to tunnel boring machines that I don't often see addressed.

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/home/15mar_moonquakes.html

Do moonquakes imply a hot core and shifting tectonic plates?

Definitely no tectonic plates. Yes, there's a hot core.


I wonder if there's a power generation opportunity there.

Quell quakes and generate electricity at the same time.

Are you thinking massively scaled up piezoelectrics?

There is a massive network of existing moon tunnels. Big enough to support a city of millions. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic plans to explore them.

Many tubes are big enough for regulation-sized moonball courts. Together with moon dune dirtbiking, the moon might have a promising sports economy.



Not to mention the added benefit of doing some valuable underground research during the process.

Wouldn't it be game changing if we found fossils really deep inside the moon as we did this? If the impact that hit Earth to form the cluster of rocks that eventually settled into what is now our Moon, I wouldn't expect it to pulverize earth into dust but rather into large pieces. Imagine of some fossils were encased in some of the larger rocks, which later settled deep inside the lunar core.

The impact of the body that created the moon is meant to have taken place in the early Hadean, long before the Earths surface cooled enough to support life.

You're right of course. Your comment lead to me reading about Hadean and Archean which has been quite interesting.

Alas I doubt the colliding bodies were solid and cooled enough for non vapor water yet, so fossils if any, would be limited to things like volcanic vent single cell organisms or virus.

The problem is, burning those fossil fuels takes oxygen. Oxygen on the moon would probably be too precious to use that way.

Pretty sure they're talking about paleontology, not fuel.

Not entirely true. Burning things requires an oxidizer, not necessarily oxygen. Other oxidizers include chlorine, fluorine, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide.

Oxygen is pretty abundant in lunar regolith. I'm not sure about how much energy it will take to extract it.

Why tunnel when there are already lava tubes?

It might interest you that NASA has already been offering prizes for developing the tech for 3D printing lunar structures - https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-400000-to-top...

Standard reading on the subject and in my opinion should be added to the hacker/maker space bible is the 1980 report by NASA on the subject “Advanced Automation for Space Missions” [1]

In it they review all manufacturing capabilities to date and extrapolate them to zero-g fractions there-of as well as hypothesize the ability of self replicating robotic systems, with a final ephiany of energy break even using Von Neumann replicators of only 15 days... using 1970s technology! A thought engaging dry must-read.

[1] http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/

This year's FIRST Robotics Lego League Jr's theme is building a moon base. This article is likely too dense for the 6-10 year old crowd but can offer the coach/mentor some discussion ideas!


Have they figured out how to deal with the abrasive lunar dust yet?


In the Artemis book, it's dealt with using filtered air jets in the airlocks.

In TV science fiction, it would involve stripping down to one's underwear and having "decontamination salve" slathered on you by another main character.

That doesn't really solve the problem. The dust will still get into the joints and abrade the outer layers.

It solves a big part of the problem.

As for the suits, they were designed half a century ago, before the problem was known (and still worked well enough to get the job done). There has been some progress since then:


Wear a tyvek suit over your space suit. Flexible, seals well, keeps dust out of the joints. Custom design it (cut a hole in it) so heat exchangers or whatever can still radiate

The Mars Society recently started a competition to design a Mars base. http://marscolony.marssociety.org/

Edit: Actually surprised no one had submitted that to HN so have taken the liberty.

Bearing in mind the moon exerts a significant influence on our planet (driving the seas tides and influencing the speed of the Earth's rotation), if humanity somehow managed to do this i.e. set up industry on the moon, how long would it be before what we did had an environmental impact on the earth?

That is to say, what would be a safe level of the moon's mass being lost to mining before we had to stop and at what point would we realise the moon's influence has become unpredictable?

I am thinking people have to spend lot of time in VR to see colors (greenery, sunlight and other colors). Moon base looks so grey/dark dust with dark skies. I would die to see green tree!!

Generally I'm pro-colonisation of space, but does anyone else feel uncomfortable about changing the face of the moon? Initially, any human presence of the moon will be indistinguishable from Earth, but if we look forward 25-50 years from the first colonistation what sort of impact will we have on the on the aesthetics of the moon by mining the regolith?

Life has been looking up at that luminous surface for hundreds of millions of years. Is it important enough to preserve or should we prioritise human progress? Maybe we can find compromise by building major installations and mining operations on the far side of the moon.

We seem pretty happy to chop the tops off mountains here on earth

Step 1 : get to the Moon

It's just one small step, I hear.

There's no carbon on the moon.

'How' is the easy part.

'Why' is what they should really answer.

Plan B. Crash dozens of asteroids onto the moon at a few designated locations. (Use rocks that might hit the earth or pass fairly close). Offer free mining rights to companies on a first-there-first-served basis.

Why crash asteroids on the Moon when its surface is covered in impact craters from ancient strikes. The moon is geologically dead and has no atmosphere, so anything kicked up in those old impacts should still be around.

Hmm, interesting. I was thinking that we could mine fresh debris from the asteroids themselves, in concentrated form. Plus saving the earth, of course.

GP's point is that plenty of asteroids have crashed into the moon in a recent enough time frame that the debris is still "fresh". After all, there's not much erosion on the moon.

Yes but not all in the same place, so the ore would presumably be less concentrated?

The moon is covered with regolith from ancient strikes.

If the rock is already crushed you can skip a few steps in the smelting process.

It does have a bit of erosion due to micrometeorites.

Why? The asteroids aren't really composed of anything that useful.

In addition, the total mass of the asteroid belt is something like 4% of the moon's (and half of that mass is in the 4 largest asteroids). You would be better off just mining the moon.

Apparently there's stuff like gold, iridium, silver, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium and tungsten.

These might be transported back to earth. Plus there's iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, aluminium, and titanium for construction of moon settlements and factories.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact