Things to Do on the Moon

August 21, 2007

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NASA consulted more than 1,000 people from businesses, academia and 13 international space agencies to come up with a master list of potential Lunar objectives and, earlier this year, released a list of "181 good ideas."

The Vision for Space Exploration program — outlined by President Bush in January 2004 — proposes a permanent presence on the Moon and using it as a stepping-off point for further space exploration of space with Mars as the initial destination. In December 2006, NASA outlined plans for a permanent base on the Moon as part of preparation for a voyage to Mars. Construction of the base is scheduled to take about five years, with astronauts sent to the Moon no later than 2020.

What should we do once there? NASA recently consulted more than 1,000 people from businesses, academia and 13 international space agencies to come up with a master list of potential lunar objectives and, earlier this year, released a list of "181 good ideas" to do on the Moon.

The suggested tasks fall into broad categories, including: Astronomy & Astrophysics; Heliophysics; Earth Observation; Geology; Materials Science; Human Health; Environmental Hazard Mitigation; Life Support & Habitat; Power; Communication; Transportation; Surface Mobility; Crew Activity Support; Lunar Resource Utilization; Historic Preservation; Global Partnership; Public Engagement/Inspiration; and even Development of Lunar Commerce.

But let's get down to it. What should we do on the moon? According to NASA's suggestions, we should consider the following:

Studying the Moon's geology and regolith to better understand its formation, as well as Earth's; Studying the Sun and its influence on the Moon and Earth; Studying the Earth's natural resources; Investigating how humans can perform over long periods off away from our home planet; Learning how to mine and capture solar power; and Using the Moon as a platform to study the universe.

NASA notes the Moon's potential as a good location for radio astronomy. "A radio telescope on the far side of the Moon would be shielded from Earth's copious radio noise, and would be able to observe low radio frequencies blocked by the Earth's atmosphere."

Detectors placed on the Moon by astronaut could get a complete profile of solar particles, "which reveal processes going on inside the sun, as well as galactic cosmic radiation from distant black holes and supernovas." By taking cores of the lunar regolith, the layer of crushed rock and dust covering the moon's surface, scientists might be able to learn how the sun's activities have affected the history of life on Earth, Jeff Volosin, strategy development lead for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, explained.

Although there were few "fun" suggestions for the Moon (Poke it in the eye? Hunt for unicorns? Revel in all the weight you've lost since departure?), science did account for only about a third of the 181 objectives.

More than half of the list deals with the many challenges of learning to live on an alien world: everything from "keeping astronauts safe from radiation and micrometeors" to "setting up power and communications systems" to "growing food in the airless, arid lunar environment," explained NASA's announcement.

For instance, mining the moon may eventually yield rocket propellant that could "be sold to commercial satellite operators to access and service their satellite assets in Earth orbit."

Of course, trying to do all the suggested activities soon would be overly expensive for the first return trip, and not all of the ideas on the list will necessarily happen. From the master list of 181, NASA currently is selecting a smaller number of high-priority goals for its initial return to the Moon.

As of February 2007, NASA was still accepting and receiving input from scientists at space agencies and universities around this world. That is to say, the list is still expanding and evolving.

NASA isn't the only organization thinking about extraterrestrial research and compiling an off-planet "to do" list.

Japan, for one, will soon restart its intensive lunar study. Although it delayed launching its SELenological and ENgineering Explorer (SELENE) spacecraft — a.k.a. Kaguya — from mid August to mid-late September, after a re-installation of condensers and a thorough rechecking of all systems, all the scientific probing equipment and communication system should operate as planned.

The purpose of this Japanese exploratory probe, according to Aviation Week, is to answer "the basic questions of lunar science":

How was the Moon formed? How has it evolved? What does it tell us about the history of the solar system?

China, Russia, France and India also have budgets for space exploration.

After all, if the apocalypse is nigh, we should be prepared to migrate elsewhere. If you found yourself on the Moon, what would you do? Let us know below.

Resources

Lunar Exploration Objectives NASA, December 2006

181 Things to Do on the Moon by Patrick Barry NASA, Feb. 2, 2007

Japan Will Soon Restart Intensive Lunar Study by Bradley Perrett, Kazuki Shiibashi, and Frank Morring, Jr. Aviation Week, July 29, 2007

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