Get your chequered flags ready, because the space race is back on. It’s been 50 years since the Soviet Union and the U.S. entered into a pitched battle to be the first nation to put a person on the moon – ending with the Apollo 11 mission that placed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Now, in 2019, we find ourselves once more on the brink of a race to get to the moon, as numerous countries and private companies ready themselves for manned trips to the moon – and potentially, even the establishment of a manned colony.
The Artemis Program
NASA is hoping to arrive first to the big rock orbiting our planet, with their project – the Artemis Program – also intending to be the first moon landing in which a woman steps foot on the moon. The Artemis Program has a prospective launch date of 2024, with the objective of landing a crew on the south pole of the moon for the first time. The south pole of the moon is particularly attractive because a large amount of water can be found there – providing both fuel for a spacecraft and nourishment for astronauts. It is hoped that this mission will open the door to establishing a more permanent human presence on the moon, with the potential for a lunar colony.
One of the key parts of the Artemis Program is the Gateway – a space station designed to orbit the moon, and provide a staging platform for manned and unmanned deployments to the moon. Construction on the Gateway is hoped to begin in 2022, once funding is approved by the U.S. government. If all goes well, NASA could succeed in setting up a long-term human presence on the moon and pave the way for intergalactic living.
However, the U.S. is far from the only nation with its eyes on the skies. For instance, China has been talking for years about their intent to set up a permanent human colony on the moon, and have themselves been sending orbiters and rovers to the moon. China even managed to be the first nation to land a rover on the dark side of the moon – and they are looking to build a robotic research outpost on the moon throughout the 2020s. If they pull this off, it could well pave the way for crewed explorations of the moon over the 2030s.
India is also making moves towards the moon, with orbiter and lander missions being embarked upon as we speak. In July of 2019, India launched the Chandrayaan-2 – a mission consisting of an orbiter and a lander that they were hoping would explore the moon’s surface. However, on September 6, 2019, the lander started moving off its intended course, before crashing into the moon and becoming unresponsive. The orbiter, however, continues to function properly, and will study the moon from orbit as planned.
However, it’s not just nation-states that are looking to get to the moon anymore. There are several private companies dedicated to space travel and colonization – all of whom have expressed an intent to make their way to the moon, for both business and leisure purposes. For instance, Moon Express has declared that it wants to extend the range of human activity – be it economic, social, or political – to the moon, and plan to begin launching crafts moonward in 2020. SpaceX has revealed their efforts to build a passenger ship that is capable of taking 100 people at a time to the moon – and they even have their eyes on sending people to Mars. NASA itself is also working closely with private companies on the Artemis mission, giving the industry an even bigger stake in the success of lunar missions.
With all this said, it seems that before long the moon may be far from a lifeless place. Given the timescale that space research takes place over, it’s hard to offer any kind of estimate on when a human colony would actually be able to live sustainably on the moon. Nonetheless, both nation-states and private companies are making it an increasing priority – which means that you could see a property advertised with ‘gorgeous views of the Earth’ sooner than you think.