Lunar Exploration

On Lunar Landings and Bases

Today is the anniversary of the first time humans stepped foot on the Moon. Another year has passed since Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface in July 1969. What a feat of engineering it was to follow JFK’s bold call to a generation of engineers, to build the systems allowing humans to walk on the Moon. Yet this anniversary also means, yet another year has passed without human presence on the Moon. The last men left our celestial companion more than 32 years ago and with it our sporadic manned, lunar exploration ended.

Given some recent rumours though this hopefully will change in the next decade. There has been increased interest in building lunar bases by the major (and not so major) spacefaring nations.

China announce this year that they have plans to build a base on the far side of the Moon. While there are a few issues to overcome, the far side also offers quite a few great scientific opportunities. There are also other rumours going around about the Chinese exploration programme. China has also established more cislunar capabilities, as seen with the L2 pattern flown last year.

On the other hand new new Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA) is Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner, who hass reiterated his desire to build a research base on the far side of the Moon.

“We should look to the future beyond the International Space Station,” Woerner told the BBC and continued – “We should look for a smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and I propose a Moon village on the far side of the Moon.”
Woerner, who was at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) previously, had expressed this idea, nicknamed “Lunarville” before joining ESA and it is nice to see that he is still holding on to it. While ESA has been exploring 3D printed lunar habitats for years (already while I was at the ACT we had some presentation from Italian base “printers”) it has not really made it into policy statements until now.

There is one commonality though, robots! We will need to have some machines up there building habitats for us. To roboticist this is not a surprise, for example, Rodney Brooks — of iRobot and Rethink Robotics fame — already published studies about this 25 years ago!

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