Yesterday, we pondered setting up civilized shop on a terraformed Mars. Today, we set our sights a bit closer to Earth's orbit. We're talking Moon bases here.
Yesterday, a question got some attention on Quora—could the moon ever be an inhabitable extension of the Earth? In response, Robert Frost, a NASA engineer and instructor, laid out the five fundamentals that any human society would need to flourish.
The big things that Earth does naturally, for us, are:
1) provides air to breath
2) provides food and water
3) provides a moderate temperature
4) protects us from deadly radiation
5) provides us with gravity
Frost notes that moon takes care of #5 itself—but we'd have to engineer the rest oursleves. But Frost feels like we're probably just about up to the task. For instance, he points out that we've already mostly got the technology to tackle #1, #2 and #3 in working order, since we've been practicing variations of them on the International Space Station for quite some time.
Frost notes that "we have technologies that can extract oxygen from moon rock and remove carbon dioxide from air. With an initial input of nitrogen to make the air nonflammable, we could provide this need. We have been practicing oxygen generation and CO2 scrubbing on the ISS for years."
In fact, we've been doing all three on ISS:
2) water can be obtained by extracting hydrogen and oxygen from lunar soil and using fuel cell technology (electrolysis) to create water. We've used fuel cells to do this on the Space Shuttle and ISS. Given water, we can grow food in hydroponic greenhouses. We've experimented with this on ISS, but on the ISS scale, its easier to just ship food.
3) just as on ISS, we can use heaters and air assemblies to moderate cabin temperature and humidity.
The biggest problem would be in protecting the colonists from radiation—ISS is still close enough to the Earth to shield the astronauts, but the moon is not. Hence, Frost suggests going subterranean. The living quarters, at least, should probably be built below the surface.
There you have it—four easy steps to building a moon base:
1. Build machines that extract oxygen from moon rocks and scrub out the CO2.
2. Create devices that extract hydrogen and oxygen from soil and use fuel cells to make water.
3. Crank up the heaters.
4. Do it all underground.
Boom. Moon base.*
*Please do not forward post to Newt Gingrich.