Caves were some of humanity’s first shelters. Who knows what our distant ancestors were thinking as they sought refuge there, huddling and cooking meat over a fire, maybe drawing animals on the walls. Caves protected our ancient ancestors from the elements, and from predators and rivals, back when sticks, stones, furs and fire were our only technologies.
So there’s a poetic parallel between early humans and us. We’re visiting the Moon again, and lunar caves could shelter us the way caves sheltered our ancestors on Earth.
Planetary exploration, specifically within our own Solar System, has provided a lifetime of scientific knowledge about the many worlds beyond Earth. However, this exploration, thus far, has primarily been limited to orbiters and landers/rovers designed for surface exploration of the celestial bodies they visit. But what if we could explore subsurface environments just as easily as we’ve been able to explore the surface, and could some of these subsurface dwellings not only shelter future astronauts, but host life, as well?
Simulation is key to space exploration. Scientists and engineers test as many scenarios as possible before subjecting their projects to the harshness of space. It should not be any different with the future living quarters of explorers on the Moon. One of the most commonly cited locations for a future permanent lunar base is in the relatively recently discovered lava tube caves scattered throughout the lunar mare. Simulating such an environment on Earth might be difficult, but a team from the Center for Space Exploration in China thinks they might have a solution – using karst caves to simulate lunar lava tubes.
Technical challenges abound when doing space exploration. Some areas are so remote or isolated that engineers need to build a special purpose-made vehicle to visit them. That is certainly the case for some of the more remote parts of the moon – especially the as-yet unexplored caves on the moon. Now a graduate student at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) seems to have developed just such an access system.
The dream of building a permanent settlement on the Moon: a place where humans from all walks of life can come together and give rise to a new culture and identity. A place where vital scientific research and experiments can be conducted, lunar industries created, and people can go for a little “adventure tourism.” It’s been the stuff of science fiction and speculative literature for over a century. But in the coming years, it could very well become a reality.
This presents many challenges but also opportunities for creative solutions. For years, astronomers have speculated that the perfect place to create a lunar colony is underground, specifically within pits, caves, and stable lava tubes visible and accessible from the lunar surface. According to new research from CU Boulder, preliminary results show these pits to be remarkably stable compared to conditions on the surface.
Lava tubes on the moon are some of the most interesting, and difficult, places to explore in the solar system. But if humanity plans to eventually have a permanent presence on the moon, the more knowledge we have about the cave systems created by those lava tubes the better.
That’s why ESA’s current focus on lunar cave exploration is so important, and another good reason to take note when it releases more information about some of the technologies leading that push. Recently, it released an update on a project known as DAEDALUS, led by Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg (JMU), with interesting new insights into the sphere shaped autonomous robot.
Always have a back up plan. Some people take that axiom to the highest levels develop backup plans for life itself. The Svalbard Seedbank is one such backup plan. Located in an ice cave in Norway it houses hundreds of thousands of seed samples in order to preserve biodiversity that is currently arranged on Earth. Ironically, if the worst models of sea level rise from climate change are realized, the Seedbank itself will be inundated by the sea and its precious cargo lost. So now a team led by a professor at the University of Arizona (UA) have proposed a much more radical idea: have the same sort of Ark, but to it much farther away from any potential catastrophic human failure – on the moon.
Infrastructure is going to be one of the biggest components of any permanent human settlement on the moon. NASA Artemis missions are focused directly on building up the facilities and processes necessary to support a moon base. ESA is also contributing both material and knowledge. Most recently they made another step in their path to explore some lava tubes and caves in the subterranean lunar world.
Could lava tubes on the Moon and Mars play a role in establishing a human presence on those worlds? Possibly, according to a team of researchers. Their new study shows that lunar and Martian lava tubes might be enormous, and easily large enough to accommodate a base.
When magma comes out of the Earth onto the surface, it flows as lava. Those lava flows are fascinating to watch, and they leave behind some unique landforms and rocks. But a lot of what’s fascinating about these flows can be hidden underground, as lava tubes.
These lava tubes are turning out to be a very desirable target for exploration on other worlds, just as they are here on Earth.