Discovery of habitable space on the Moon for future sustainable human presence

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Lunar research is at a fruitful stage. Competition, as well as cooperation between countries, creates a certain dynamic in research and long-term projects, as evidenced by the “Artemis Treaty”. Creating a goal of conquering space through rules of good behavior and cooperation among countries willing to return to the moon by 2025 with the ultimate goal of expanding space exploration with the United States. Recently, American researchers have discovered shaded areas in lunar craters whose temperature is always around a comfortable 17 degrees Celsius. The caves they can move into will provide long-term, thermally stable shelter for future human explorers.

Space conquest in the 21st century gained new momentum with NASA’s Artemis Treaty signed by 20 countries. In fact, international cooperation on Artemis aims not only to strengthen space exploration, but also to strengthen peaceful relations between countries. Therefore, all activities must be conducted for peaceful purposes in accordance with the principles of the Outer Space Treaty at the heart of the Artemis Accords and to protect extraterrestrial resources.

In this context, the American Artemis program aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2025, more than 50 years after the historic moon landing of the Apollo 11 mission. The aim is to eventually establish a permanent human presence. It also plans to build a station that will be integrated into lunar orbit from 2024, the Lunar Gateway, a future springboard for further human flight. The ability to extract and use resources on the Moon, Mars and asteroids will be essential to support safe and sustainable space exploration and development.

Recently, a team led by UCLA scientists discovered shadowy spots in the moon’s craters, which still hover around a comfortable 17 degrees Celsius. The caves they could lead to would be safer and more thermally stable base camps for lunar exploration and long-term habitation than the rest of the lunar surface, which can reach 127 degrees Celsius during the moon. Drops to -173 degrees Celsius during the day and overnight. The results are published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Welcome pit for ancient lava tubes

Lunar craters were discovered by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2009, thanks to the first truly Japanese lunar space probe, Selene or Kaguya. The space probe was launched on September 14, 2007 from the Tanegashima Launch Base by a Japanese H-IIA launch vehicle.

Since then, the question has arisen whether these holes lead to caves that can be explored or used as shelters. For this reason, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) space probe in 2009 to better understand the surface of natural Earth satellites. Thanks to the extremely high accuracy of the onboard instruments and the huge amount of data sent back to Earth, the American space agency was able to draw highly detailed maps and a 3D model for future long-term missions to the Moon.

Tyler Horvath, a UCLA doctoral student in planetary science, said in a statement: Of the more than 200 craters, about 16 are likely collapsed lava tubes. Two large craters have visible overhangs that clearly lead to caves or voids, and there is strong evidence that the overhangs of another crater may also lead to a large cave.

Thus, using computer modeling and data from the Diviner instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been continuously measuring lunar surface temperatures for more than 11 years, the authors of the study characterized the atmosphere at a depth approximately 100 meters deep, for the length and width of a football field. .

Located in Mare Tranquillitatis, the crater’s thermal environment is more hospitable than anywhere else on the Moon, with temperatures varying around a minimum of 17°C, where the sun does not shine directly. In fact, the authors believe that the shading overhang is responsible for constant temperature, limiting heat during the day and preventing heat from radiating at night.

Meanwhile, the sunlit part of the crater’s floor reaches daytime temperatures of around 149 degrees Celsius, about 20 degrees warmer than the moon’s surface. Horvath explains: Since Tranquilitatis Pit is closest to the lunar equator, the midday-light floor is probably the hottest spot on the entire moon. ” If a cave extended from a crater like this, it too would maintain a comfortable temperature of 17°C, along its entire length, varying by less than 1°C during a full lunar day.

Permanent human presence on the moon

These lunar caves and craters would be the result of lava tubes, also found on Earth. They form when molten lava flows down a cooled lava field or a crust forms over a lava river, leaving a long, hollow tunnel. If the ceiling of a solidified lava tube collapses, it opens a hole that can lead to the rest of the cave-like tube. As David Page, co-author of the article, noted: Humans evolved by living in caves, and we can go back to them when we live on the moon

You should know that a day on the Moon lasts about 15 Earth days, during which the surface is constantly bombarded by sunlight. Incredibly cold nights last about 15 Earth days. Inventing heating and cooling equipment that can operate in these conditions and produce enough energy to power them continuously could prove an insurmountable obstacle for lunar exploration or habitation. Note that solar power—NASA’s most common form of power generation—doesn’t work at night.

Building bases in the shadowed parts of these craters will allow scientists to focus on other challenges, such as growing food supplies, supplying astronauts with oxygen, gathering resources for experiments, and expanding the base. The craters or caves would provide some protection against cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites.

Finally, data from the initial phase of this lunar pit thermal modeling project was used to help develop the rover’s thermal management system for NASA’s proposed Moon Diver mission. The latter aims to insert the rover into the Tranquillatis crater to probe the lava flow layers observed on its walls and explore any existing caves.

So we’ll have to wait a little longer before planning to live and work on the moon, but these first data from lunar trenches suggest great potential and great hope for space exploration in general.

Source: Geophysical Research Letters

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