The first man landed on the moon in 1969, and we've been obsessed with getting back there ever since. So what's stopping us from establishing a permanent moon base?
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At some point, we’ve probably all dreamed of packing up and moving to a faraway country. And if you really want to put some space between yourself and the hustle-bustle of Earth, the moon may be just the place for you. It’s 384,400 kilometers away -- close enough to travel back home… but far enough to keep random salesmen (and your in-laws) from knocking on your door.
So why aren’t we living there yet?
The holdup comes down to a few factors: First, there’s the technology. From a purely technological standpoint, we know we can reach the moon. But reaching the moon and living on it are two different things. Future lunar colonists will need to bring or create their own sustainable sources of power, air, water, food and shelter. Bringing material from Earth is incredibly expensive – for example, with our current technology it costs about $400,000 to haul one gallon of water into space. So we have to figure out how to make a lunar colony as self-sufficient as possible. Future colonists may rely on the moon’s frozen water, for example, and grow food in hydroponic farms for food. This is all possible – but prohibitively expensive.
Most experts believe that our methods of reaching the moon have to become more cost-efficient and energy-effective to support large-scale operations.
These advancements will require a lot of effort, which means they’ll need significant financial support. Both governments and private entities are giving this a shot. But each path comes with its own strings attached: Private industries require the potential for short- or long-term profit. And government funded space programs will require both political and popular support from their citizens. And that can be pretty difficult at times. In early 2010, economics and politics in the US indefinitely postponed NASA's latest plans for a moon base. But America’s not the only player in the game. That same year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) unveiled plans to establish an unmanned lunar base by 2020. And in May of 2014 Russia also revealed its proposal to build a permanent moon base by 2030. And in the private sphere, Google's Lunar X Prize competition continues to advance small-scale lunar spacecraft technology by encouraging teams from around the world to create hardware, software and vehicles for future lunar endeavors.
So there’s no question: The race to settle the moon is on, and there are numerous possible benefits. It’s possible that we could build spacecraft more efficiently, mine helium-3 and establish our species’ first foothold in the stars… and at this point it seems more feasible than ever before. According to the latest plans, human beings could be living on the moon within the next few decades. But will the latest round of ambitious proposals lead to a real lunar colony, or only another series of financial boondoggles?
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