Humanity’s Long Road To Colonizing The Moon

We’ve only been seriously trying for almost 400 years. We’ll figure it out eventually.

1. 1600s: The British Empire Tries to Take to the Stars

John Gara

John Wilkins, a British inventor in the 1640s, was the first person to attempt to reach the moon with manned flight. Convinced the moon was populated by an alien people he called the Selenites, Wilkins was adamant that Britain reach them in order to open up trade routes.

His plans were more wooden chariot than proper spaceship, consisting of a feathered vessel propelled by gunpowder. Thirty years and several scientific breakthroughs in physics and astronomy later, it was determined Wilkins’ ideas were not yet feasible.

2. 1835: The Great Moon Hoax Revitalizes Desire to Colonize the Moon

In the summer of 1835, the New York Sun published the astonishing findings of John Herschel, one of the most famous astronomers of the time. As the story went, Herschel used a cutting-edge piece of technology called a “hydro-oxygen magnifier” to invent a telescope capable of 42,000x zoom and aimed it at the moon. What he saw there was beyond belief…literally.

Massive trees, sandy beaches, majestic waterfalls, and more were projected onto Herschel’s wall vis his new telescope. Lunar bison, lunar waterfowl, and lunar goats were living alongside Vespertilio-homo, or the sentient lunar Man-Bat. A race of beautiful, angelic creatures ruled the moon, and some suspiciously humanlike creations populated the middle class. While the hoax was short-lived, it spawned a renewed desire to reach the moon, if only to see these wonders firsthand.

3. 1890s: Father of Astronautics Declares Humanity Must Visit the Stars

Fred T. Jane for “Guesses at Futurity” (1894)

Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky was a Russian scientist who is now considered the father of Astronautics and Rocket Dynamics. As early as 1876, he was writing about space travel, albeit in the form of science fiction. He proposed not only traveling beyond Earth, but that it was crucial to humanity’s survival as a species, stating, “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever.”

By the 1890s, Tsiolkovsky was well-known as a scientist, having moved from fictional musing to scientific papers on the subject. His visionary ideas included air-pressure locks, guided rockets, space habitats, and theories on how to deal with low or zero gravity. Tsiolkosvsky’s formula dealing with the detailed calculations of the theoretical function of rockets in a vacuum are still considered crucial to the field of astronautics. During his life, he wrote over 500 scientific papers about rockets, spaceships, and moon and interstellar colonization.

4. 1954: Arthur C. Clarke Proposes the First Practical Lunar Base Design

A year before using his own plans in his novel Earthlight, Arthur C. Clarke announced plans for sustainable human habitation of the moon. Formed of inflatable igloo-shaped habitats covered in moon dust for insulation, colonies could maintain contact with one another with blow-up radio masts when not traveling via electric monorails. Power would come from nuclear reactors, and food would be grown on-site with hydroponic farms. Over time, Clarke proposed permanent domes of stronger material could be constructed, along with algae-based air purifiers and electromagnetic cannons to launch trade goods and fuel to interplanetary vessels orbiting the moon.

5. 1959: U.S. Launches a Study to Build a Military Base on the Moon

By 1959, the United States government had begun Project Horizon, a feasibility study to determine the best way to build a permanent military base on the moon. Once in place, the lunar base would have defended against Soviet missiles by shooting them down as well as house low-yield nuclear warheads.

The original plan would have had cargo deliveries to the moon begin in January of 1965, with two men landing in April to oversee construction. Had the plan gone forward, within a year of beginning the operation, the military would have landed a task force of 12 soldiers on the complete base, at a cost nearing $6 billion.

6. 1969: NASA Goes from Military Inclinations to Scientific Pursuits

Ten years later, Dr. Rodney Wendell Johnson, NASA’s Advanced Planner for the Advanced Manned Mission Program, sat down with Science Journal to talk about the future of lunar habitation. The illustration above (click here to enlarge) is from that article and shows a permanent base half-buried in the sand of the moon. Designed for scientific excursions of up to two weeks, with the colony seeing to the astronauts’ every need.

7. 1985: Scientific Study Meets Private Industry

In a bold statement, The Futurist claimed in 1985 that Americans would have permanent settlements on the moon by 2007, the 50th anniversary of the Space Age.

Construction was set to begin by the end of the decade, with the colony becoming home to scientists and regular citizens alike. The pioneers, numbering in the dozens, would be housed mostly underground to protect them from cosmic radiation during their three-month to one-year tenures. Both scientists and corporate miners, along with facility crew, were the careers NASA was searching out to populate the lunar base.

8. 2013: Building Lunar Bases Out of Moon Dust

Today’s moon colony looks like the plans of the past but with the technology of the future. The European Space Agency (ESA) announced plans to build a moon colony using cutting-edge 3-D printers.

Using a mixture of silicon, calcium, iron, aluminum, and magnesium oxide to simulate the composition of moon dust, the agency showed off their theory by printing a honeycomb wall from the mixture. Once on the moon, they could create large, cell-like frames that use the moon’s own defenses to protect colonists from gamma radiation and micro-meteorites as well as to cut down on building costs.

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