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Can China build a research station on the moon?

Joshua chow

The world is still celebrating the historic landing of the Chinese Chang & # 39; e 4 on the far side of the moon on January 3. This week, China announced plans to carry out three more lunar missions, laying the groundwork for the lunar base.

Colonization of the Moon and beyond has always been a human aspiration. Technological advances and the discovery of a significant source of water near the lunar poles have made this idea even more attractive.

But how close is China to achieving this goal?

If we focus on the technologies currently available, China can start building a base on the moon today.


Provided by Reuters / National Space Administration of China.

The image of the far side of the moon, provided by the Chang Lunar Rover & # 39; e 4.
First Moon Base

The first lunar base is likely to be an unmanned object controlled by automated robotics — like Amazon’s warehouses — to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and support systems are fully operational until people arrive.

The lunar environment is susceptible to conditions of high vacuum, strong fluctuations in temperature and solar radiation, among other conditions hostile to man. More importantly, we have yet to fully understand the long-term effects on the human body in space and on the moon.

The seeds delivered to the moon by the “Chang 4” mission are now reportedly grown, although they have since died. This is the first time that plants are grown on the moon, paving the way for a future food farm on a lunar base.

Building a lunar base is no different from building the first oil rig in the ocean. It is necessary to consider the logistics of moving construction parts, feasibility studies and, in this case, soil samples should be checked.

China took the first step by examining the soil on the lunar surface. This is necessary for the construction of an underground habitat and supporting infrastructure that will protect the base from the harsh surface conditions.

3D printed all

Of all the possible technologies for building a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth has revolutionized productivity and production efficiency, reducing costs and costs.

The Chinese vision is to develop the ability to 3D-print both inside and outside the lunar base. 3D printers can do everything from everyday objects, such as drinking cups, to parts for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. This will require new technologies that can work in the conditions of moon microgravity. 3D printing presses must be developed that are capable of forming parts in a space vacuum.

New materials required

We know that terrestrial materials, such as fiber optics, change properties while in space. Thus, materials that are effective on Earth may not be effective on the Moon.

Whatever the intended use of the 3D printing component, it must be resistant to the conditions of the lunar environment. Therefore, the development of printed material is crucial. Gradually, researchers are finding and developing new materials and technologies to solve this problem.

For example, researchers in Germany expect the first “ready-to-use” stainless steel tools for 3D printing in microgravity to appear in the near future. NASA also demonstrated 3D printing technology in zero gravity, showing that it is possible for 3D printing in space.

On a larger scale, we saw houses printed on Earth in 3D. Likewise, the lunar base is likely to be built using prefabricated parts in combination with large-scale 3D printing.

Examples of how this might look can be seen in the materials of the 3D Habitat contest, which was launched by NASA in 2005. The competition is aimed at the development of 3D printing technology necessary for creating sustainable housing solutions for the Earth, the Moon, Mars and other countries. beyond it.

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Provided by NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

NASA's Habitat Challenge: The Gamma team demonstrates the design of its habitat.
Life on the moon

So far, we have focused on the technological feasibility of building a lunar base, but we also need to consider the long-term impact of lunar life on people. To date, limited studies have been conducted to study the biological effects on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that human organs, tissues and cells are very sensitive to gravity, but there is currently no understanding of how human cells function and regenerate.

What happens if the astronauts get sick? Will the medicine from Earth still work? If astronauts live on the moon, you need to answer these fundamental questions.

In the long term, 3D bio-printing of human organs and tissues will play a crucial role in supporting lunar missions through robotic operations. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D printer operating in microgravity.


Credit: CGTN / Twitter

Spaceship Chang & # 39; e 4, pictured in the Chinese state media.
To infinity and beyond

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can humans survive on the moon and other planets for a long time? The answer to this question is less clear.

There is no doubt that China will use the next 10–15 years to develop the necessary technical capabilities to carry out manned lunar missions and create conditions for space exploration.

Read on: Why should we celebrate China’s historic landing on the opposite side of the moon

This article was originally published for conversation. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@ Nick1Aspinwall)

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