Following the launch of rockets, satellites and, eventually, people into outer space, it became commonplace to hear that humankind had entered the “Space Age.” While true, the innocence of our early space explorations seems to pale compared to what we are achieving today: remotely-operated probes are now reporting back to us with images of objects further from Earth than we once might have dreamed, and the further we push the boundaries of space with our explorations, the smaller our little world seems to feel.
Such innovation has fueled the aspirations of those like Elon Musk, who remains among a vocal contingent of technologists and futurists who aspire to reach the stars. For people like Musk, colonizing other worlds may not just be an eventuality for humankind, with our desire for the exploration of other worlds; our survival may even depend on it.
Others aren’t so convinced. One vocal opponent of this “other worlds, or else” mentality has been science popularizer Bill Nye, who argues that not only is the prospect of colonizing planets like Mars in the near future unrealistic, but it may be impossible.
“This whole idea of terraforming Mars, as respectful as I can be, are you guys high?” Nye told USA Today late last year. “People disagree with me on this, and the reason they disagree is because they’re wrong.”
However, while Mars seems a bit far off, perhaps there are nearer orbital bodies in space that might qualify. With news of China’s recent exploration of the Moon’s far side with its Chang’e-4 probe, some are now asking whether a moon base could be in our future.
Following the big announcement about the Chang’e-4 Lunar Lander, LA Times reports that “Chinese scientists have already declared China’s ambitions to establish a manned moon base and to send nuclear-powered rockets into space in future decades to colonize and exploit space.”
China’s intentions, according to a previous statement to the media, is now to “set the rules of the game in outer space,” establishing a new precedent for space exploration, and perhaps an all-new meaning behind the idea of the “space age.”
They’re wasting no time, either. Subsisting on a steady diet of carrots, potatoes, and yes, mealworms (for protein) along with other high-energy vegetables, a group of eight volunteers concluded a year-long experiment in bio-regenerative living at the astronautics facilities at Beihang University in May. The study, which also became a record-breaking experiment in sustained living in an enclosed system (recycling food, air, water… everything, essentially) was aimed at innovating long-term occupation in a lunar environment.
The Chinese aren’t the only ones making plans for moon bases and long-term lunar occupation. Last year, NASA announced its own plans for a moon base, which will serve not only as a base for future lunar studies but as a stopover for future space travelers on their way to Mars.
According to NASA.gov:
NASA is building a plan for Americans to orbit the Moon starting in 2023, and land astronauts on the surface no later than the late 2020s. This will be the first chance for the majority of people alive today to witness a Moon landing – a moment when, in awe and wonder, the world holds its breath. However, America will not stop there.
A key component of establishing the first permanent American presence and infrastructure on and around the Moon is the Gateway, a lunar orbiting platform to host astronauts farther from Earth than ever before.
On the Gateway, America and its partners will prepare to transit deep space, testing new technologies and systems as we build the infrastructure to support missions to the surface of the Moon and prepare for the epochal mission to Mars.
With both China and the U.S. expressing renewed aspirations for lunar bases, it seems we’re looking at more than just a new kind of 21st century “Space Age”: we’re in the midst of an all-new space race, too, and have been for a while, it seems (although the moon base idea isn’t really anything new, as these documents declassified in 2014 show).
“By the late 2020s,” NASA’s press release from Sept. 26, 2018 reports, “a lunar lander capable of transporting crews and cargo will begin trips to the surface of the Moon.”
“The sustainable, long-term lunar surface activities enabled by these efforts, in tandem with the Gateway, will expand and diversify over time, taking advantage of the Moon and near space for scientific exploration in the broadest sense.”
Broad indeed… and no longer just “to the moon and back.” Try, to the moon, and beyond!