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Prospective NASA moonbase
Prospective NASA moonbaseCourtesy of ICON/NASA

NASA says we might be living on the moon by 2040

It’s free real estate

The moon is a woman. The moon is a gay icon. The moon is WitchTok’s nemesis. The moon is home. According to NASA, at least one of these statements will be true by the 2040s. Unfortunately for Sappho fans and any alien life that might be hiding out in a crater up there, it’s the last one. Yes, the space agency’s engineers are already hard at work on putting us back on the lunar surface, and have now unveiled plans to build houses there.

How? According to seven NASA scientists interviewed by the New York Times, it would involve blasting a 3D printer up into space, to build structures layer by layer out of “lunar concrete” – a material made from the poisonous clusters of rock chips, mineral fragments, and dust on the moon’s surface. (And I thought it was bad when they found asbestos in the ceiling at primary school.) This will supposedly be made possible by NASA opening up to partnerships with various universities and private tech companies.

More importantly, you might ask: why do we want to live on the moon in the first place? Isn’t it a barren, toxic wasteland? Well, yes. Plus, there’s no oxygen, and moon dust is so abrasive it can cut like glass, damaging spacesuits and machinery over long stays. And temperatures can sometimes reach 600 degrees, with no atmosphere to protect human inhabitants from vicious solar radiation.

On the other hand, humans have been dreaming about returning to the moon since the Apollo mission last saw astronauts touch down on Earth’s natural satellite in 1972. It isn’t just wanderlust, either. As the European Space Agency’s Bernhard Hufenbach told Dazed earlier this year, learning to live on the moon is mostly seen as a “stepping stone” to Mars: “the holy grail of human spaceflight.”

It’s not surprising, then, that NASA says life on Mars won’t be far behind a successful moon colony. In essence, the moon will act as a training ground for this more ambitious mission, helping to test processes such as making new materials, completing off-world construction projects, and making sure that the structures hold up under intense environmental conditions. After all, it’s a good idea to get some assurances before we embark on a journey to Mars or more distant planets, where we can’t just turn around and go home if things don’t work out.

Announcing its new 2040 goals, NASA says that it might not just be astronauts, but regular civilians as well, who get to live in its new lunar homes. Others say that this timeline is far too ambitious, especially since the agency’s Artemis mission is yet to get boots on the ground (stay tuned for that in 2024). But there are arguments to be made for speedy spaceflight: right now, the moon and Mars are essentially free real estate, meaning whoever gets their first will get first pick of the best plots of land. If it turns out that they’re a valuable asset in the future, for mining or other purposes, establishing early settlements might prove even more important.

“We’re at a pivotal moment, and in some ways it feels like a dream sequence,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s director of technology maturation, in the NYT. “In other ways, it feels like it was inevitable that we would get here. We’ve got all the right people together at the right time with a common goal... if we get our core capabilities developed, there’s no reason it’s not possible.”

It’s not like there won’t be anything to do once we settle on the moon, either. Click here to read about the Lunar Codex, a project to land more than 30,000 artists’ work on the lunar surface, and here to learn about the controversial science of making babies in space.

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