At the annual World Tunnel Congress in Naples, experts from around the world discuss digging tunnels for future human colonizers of the Moon.
Digging Tunnels On The Moon
Experts at the event held from May 3 to May 9 offer solutions to the challenges that NASA and other space agencies from around the world might face upon arrival to the lunar surface.
"Imagine something the size of my fist as a piece of rock coming at 10-12 kilometres per second, it can hit anything and would immediately destroy it," said Jamal Rostami, director of the Earth Mechanics Institute at the U.S. Colorado School of Mine, to AFP. "So every plan for having a habitat on the moon involves making a trench, creating a structure and covering it with some sort of regolith, which is the soil on the moon."
The lunar surface is not an ideal place for humans to live in. Aside from the threat of meteorite strikes, astronauts who will stay there will be constantly bombarded with radiation.
To protect human colonizers from the harsh conditions on the lunar surface, experts want to take a tunnel boring machine and dig continuous openings for habitats or connect colonies together.
The American United Launch Alliance predicted that there will be about 1,000 people living in outer space by 2050, some of whom will either be in orbit around or on the Moon. Part of NASA's lunar plans is to construct a Gateway that will serve as a jump-off point for scientists who want to explore the Moon. The Gateway will replace the International Space Station which will be retired in a few years.
Other space agencies, including China, have expressed interest in a lunar base.
The tunnel boring machines can also be used to dig for precious minerals on the lunar surface.
"The first target is water," added Rostami. "We know there is trapped water at the lunar poles, where the temperature is as low as -190 degrees Celsius."
There are plans to extract water from the Moon, through evaporating and capturing it or mining it and let it thaw, to be used to sustain astronauts who will venture further into space and, eventually, establish human colonies elsewhere.
Getting To The Moon Would Be A Problem
Rostami also discussed another problem that future colonizers of the Moon might encounter: gravity. Launching existing tunnel boring equipment from Earth to the Moon would be a major challenge.
He said that these machines should be redesigned to optimize all components, make them weigh significantly less, but they have to perform better. They also have to be fully automated.
Attendees of the conference also discussed how to power the tunnel boring machines once on the Moon. Rostami shared that experts mulled over possibly using small nuclear power plans to fuel lunar versions of the tunnel boring machines.