More than 50 years after Arthur C Clarke envisioned a permanent lunar base that would serve as a gateway to the solar system, it looks like his prediction is about to come true. For that is what will happen if all goes well with Nasa’s plans to return to the moon and colonise it. The idea seems to be to put men on Earth’s natural satellite by 2020 and follow it up with the establishment of a permanent lunar base by 2024.
When Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon in 1969 and during subsequent Apollo missions, it seemed inevitable that a Mars mission would soon materialise. Alas, that was not to be. Manned space exploration instead became confined to routine swings in low-Earth orbits made by the Russian space station Mir, the space shuttles, and the International Space Station. The problem obviously wasn’t technology as much as lack of political will.
Perhaps this explains why Nasa has drawn up its blueprint for the next moon effort in many colours, involving 14 other space agencies. The moon-walkers this time round will need to lug far more than flags, golf balls and lunar buggies with them as they have to spend up to six months living off the lunar ‘land’, conducting research, and developing a ‘lunar economy’. It would be the first test of whether a permanent human settlement is possible away from Earth. A self-sustainable Moon base, along with the very low lunar gravity, would make an excellent launch pad for manned exploration of Mars and the outer solar system.