Tuesday , March 9 2021

Can China build a research station on the Moon?

By Joshua Chou

The world continues to celebrate China's 4th Changing landings on the brink of madness on January 3. This week, China announced its follow-up plans with three more lunar missions, laying the foundations for a lunar base.

Colonizing the Moon and beyond, it has always been a human aspiration. Technological breakthroughs and the discovery of a considerable water source near the lunar poles have made this idea even more attractive.

But, how close is China to achieve this goal?

If we focus on the technology currently available, China could start building a base on the Moon today.


Credit: Reuters / China National Space Administration

An image of the farthest part of the moon provided by Changing # 4 and China's 4th navigator.
The first lunar base

The first lunar base is probably an unmanned installation managed by automated robotics, similar to Amazon stores, to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and support systems are fully operational before people arrive.

The lunar environment is susceptible to deep vacuum conditions, strong fluctuations in temperature and solar radiation, among other conditions hostile to humans. More importantly, we still have to fully understand the long-term impact on the human body of being in space and on the Moon.

The seeds thrown into the Moon by the Chang & # 4 mission, apparently, arose, although since then they have died. This is the first time that plants have been grown on the Moon, preparing the way for a future food farm on the lunar base.

Building a lunar base is no different than building the first oil rig on the ocean. You must consider the logistics of moving parts in motion, you must carry out feasibility studies, and in this case, you must try the soil samples.

China has taken the first step examining the ground of the lunar surface. This is necessary for the construction of a subterranean habitat and the support infrastructure that protects the base of the hard surface conditions.

All printed 3D

Of all the possible technologies to build a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth has revolutionized productivity and productivity efficiency, reducing both waste and cost.

China's vision is to develop the capacity for 3D printing both inside and outside the lunar base. 3D printers have the potential to make everything from everyday elements, such as cups to be consumed, to repair pieces for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. New technologies are required that can operate in the area of ​​the microgravity of the Moon. 3D printing machines can be developed that are capable of modeling pieces in the empty space.

New materials are required

We know that Earth materials, such as optical fiber, change properties once they are in the space. Thus, materials that are effective on Earth may not be effective on the Moon.

Regardless of the foreseen use of the printed component in 3D, it must be resistant to the conditions of the lunar environment. Therefore, the development of printing material is crucial. Step by step, researchers seek and develop new materials and technologies to face this challenge.

For example, German researchers hope that the first stainless steel tools "ready for use" are printed in 3D under microgravity in the near future. NASA also demonstrated zero-degree 3D printing technology that demonstrates that it is feasible to print 3D in space.

On a larger scale, we have seen that houses are printed in 3D on Earth. Similarly, the lunar base will probably be constructed using prefabricated parts in combination with 3D printing on a large scale.

Some examples of this aspect can be seen in the entries of the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, which was started by NASA in 2005. The competition seeks to advance the technology of 3D print construction needed to create sustainable housing solutions for the Earth, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

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Credit: NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

NASA's Habitat Challenge: Team Gamma that shows its habitat design.
Live on the moon

So far, we have focused on the technological viability of building a lunar base, but we must also consider the long-term effect of lunar life in humans. So far, there have been limited studies to examine the biological impact on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that human organs, tissues and cells are highly receptive to gravity, but now they have no knowledge of how human cells work and regenerate.

What happens if astronauts get sick? Does earth medicine still work? If astronauts have to live on the Moon, these fundamental questions must be answered.

In the long term, 3D bioprice of human organs and tissues will play a fundamental role in the maintenance of lunar missions allowing robotic operations. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D bioprinter to work under microgravity.


Credit: CGTN / Twitter

The Changing Space Ships # 4 as represented in the Chinese state media.
Until infinity and beyond

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can human beings survive the moon and other long-term planets? The answer to this is less clear.

What is certain is that China will use the next 10 to 15 years to develop the technical capabilities necessary to carry out manned lunar missions and set the stage for space exploration.

Read Next: Why do we have to celebrate the historical landing of China in the far side of the Moon

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@ Nick1Aspinwall)

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