In olden days, it was said that the full Moon made people insane, and that beasts of the imagination, such as werewolves and vampires, basked in its glow, gaining mysterious powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. As with all such tales, there was a grain of truth about it, but sadly not tied to mysterious psionic powers, or the intervention of gods or spirits, but belonging more to the mundane world where there is more activity among animals and humans when it is easier to see outside. The crime rate goes up, not because of madness, but because criminals can make more informed decisions about which house to rob; which victim looks more helpless; where the good escape routes are.
Of course we’ve been watching the Moon for as long as we’ve been smart enough to look up and wonder what it was. We’ve imagined all sorts of things about it, trying to explain what we see. Humans suffer from something called Pareidolia; not suffer so much actually – think of it as an evolutionary advantage that helps us survive. We see things and our brains twist the object into something familiar so we can compare and judge if it’s good or bad for us. Consequently, we see a face we refer to as the Man in the Moon, a squirrel in photos of Mars, and so on. Of course we rely on things like that much less now. We have measurable information and facts to guide us.
Here are some quick vital statistics on Earth’s only natural satellite:
– Length of Orbit: 27.3 Earth days
– Equatorial Circumference: 10,917.0 km
– Diameter: 3,475 km
– Mass: 73,476,730,924,573,500 million kg
– Average Distance to Earth: 384,400 km
– Surface Temperature: -233 to 123 °C
In 1969, the USA landed a man on the Moon and by 1972 a total of 12 Apollo mission astronauts had set foot upon its surface. Back in the 1960s we looked forward to the day when travel to the Moon for a holiday or to work would be common place by 1990. When the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R wound down, so did all their ambitions, apparently. Right now the Chinese are making plans to get themselves to the moon with a human being in 2019. Japan is thinking along those lines, too. We know from history that anything that is not pursued with vigour soon atrophies. Lest we forget: The Meek shall inherit the Earth – the Rest of us are going to the Stars!
Here are a just some of the benefits future lunar exploration could yield for humankind:
* There are elevated spots at the poles that are in (virtually) perpetual sunlight as opposed to the two-week dark and light periods elsewhere on the surface; it would be an extraordinary place to set up solar power arrays to permanently power a colony there. We know there is water on the Moon, in the form of subterranean ice (sub-selenean would probably be more accurate since terra refers to Earth and Selene refers to the Moon), which could be mined to provide: a) water, b) hydrogen, c) oxygen for a colony.
* The Moon has only the most tenuous atmosphere because gases (like neon) leak out of the soil and regolith constantly and persist briefly until swept away by the solar wind; it is so inconsequential as to be considered vacuum. Some of those gases are a rare form of helium called helium-3, deposited and embedded over millennia by that same solar wind, which will one day be the fuel we use in fusion reactors for virtually limitless power. The United States, with approximately 100 million households could theoretically be completely powered with just seven tonnes of helium-3 per year. Of course there is loss in the process, but including industry as well, it would still come in between 20-40 tonnes per year. The whole planet could run for 10,000 years on lunar helium-3.
* There is a wealth of light metals on the Moon’s surface, such as aluminum, beryllium, magnesium, titanium, among their other purposes they will be useful for building a permanent base there. The silica of the soil will be great for making glass to enclose a crater; then we create an atmosphere and build a city just like any on Earth. Lots of craters are well-suited to such a use.
* Farside (the name for the face of the Moon we never see from Earth), will make a terrific place for a radio observatory, with no atmosphere, and insulated by the entire thickness of the Moon from all the radio noise of Earth. Anywhere on the Moon will offer new opportunities for industrial processes only possible in low gravity. We can mine all the light metals the Earth might ever need with no harm to the environment.
* We could build above and below ground complexes where the lower gravity would reduce the strain on an aging body. By planning to retire there, safely away from Earth’s gravity, we could extend life spans easily to 130 years with no further medical advances. One day the Lunar Olympics may feature the 36 metre pole vault, the 42 metre long-jump, and the three kilometre human-powered-flight race.