Frolicking on the Moon, or Now That We're Here What do We do?

Let's assume our moonbase has been established and is up and running, the question becomes, "What do we do, and how do we do it?"  This also leads into questions of how do people get around or at least how do people generate work in different locations.  The most ready answer is that much of the work and movement will take place thanks to telepresence.

The Continued Roll of Telepresence

Why telepresence would be used can be answered by looking at spacesuits.  Spacesuits require power, water, and oxygen in order to sustain their human occupant, they leak precious gases out into space, they require frequent cycling through airlocks to accomodate both the rigors of the surface with the requirements of their human cargo, and suit breakage tends to kill the occupant.  Telepresence robots have the advantage that they are not affected by a lack of atmosphere, they are not easily damaged by radiation, they can probably handle greater temperature extremes than a human being in a spacesuit, and the consequences of breakage are that they get fixed.

Lastly, a spacesuit is essentially a balloon-like structure that must maintain air pressure and be flexible to allow motion of the arms and legs.  To provide these two requirements, plastics or types of rubber are often used for the suits construction.  The problem  is that the moon is pretty much lacking in hydrocarbons so far as we know, consequently spacesuits and suit repairs will be dependent upon earth resources.  One might guess that the cost to ship materials to the moon might roughly be five to ten times greater than the cost to ship materials to low earth orbit.  Therefore one can surmise that on the moon at least, spacesuits will be obscenely expensive at the very best.

The Utilization of Lunar Resources

Telepresence infers that there will need to be a wide ranging communications system needed in order to manage the telepresence robots.  Global communications, such as with Iridium type satellites, might be the answer.  Once people are virtually walking out and about on the moon, the question will arise, "what are they going to do?"  One of the things they will probably do is go prospecting for and mining minerals, ice, and volitile gases.  Volitile gases occasionally erupt out of the lunar surface at various locations.  These volitiles may be in the form of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, or other gases that may be beneficial to a growing lunar habitat.  It can be assumed that lunar ice can be used to provide water and oxygen to a growing lunar population; but a lunar source of carbon and nitrogen, necessary for the production of proteins, would be a tremendous find indeed.

Some people at NASA have proposed that the lunar ice could be converted into oxygen and hydrogen, rocket fuel for an expanding fleet of ships, but lunar residents are bound to not be too keen on this idea in the long run (as they will need the ice for their own purposes).  The moons resources can be used to construct L-5 style colonies in space and/or to provide parts and materials for solar power satellites.  Others believe the moon will be a rich source of Helium 3, a theoretically ideal gas for nuclear fusion reactors.  In other words, the moon may be the source of materials for much of humanity's energy needs in the future.

The Potential for Unique Manufacturing Techniques and Products

The moon also has potential for the development of unique manufacturing techniques.  Any manufacturing that can take advantage of the moon's hard vacuum and the vast amounts of solar radiation will undoubtedly thrive.  An interesting notion is that old fashioned vacuum tubes, as used in radios of the past, might make a comeback, especially high power vacuum tubes.  Techniques exist today to manufacture cold cathode vacuum tubes.  If these techniques were applied to vacuum tubes on the moon, then tube designs could be created that have no glass envelope around them, and that can take advantage of moving parts during their operation.  One important vacuum tube that may be manufactured on the moon is the magnetron.  Magnetrons are high power microwave oscillators that function with efficiencies as high as 95%.  Another effective microwave tube and potential lunar candidate is the travelling wave tube, with similarly high efficiency.  The point is all of these tubes will be profoundly easy to manufacture on the moon.

Magnets and Mass Drivers

The moon does have a fair amount rare earth elements.  These elements are very useful in the modern manufacturing, especially in the manufacture of high flux density magnets.  These magnets in turn are used in all manner of equipment on earth and in space.  One possible use is in the construction of maglev trains and in the manufacture of a mass driver.  A mass driver, as mentioned earlier, is essentially a high acceleration, high speed, maglev train that is used to launch material or spacecraft into lunar orbit or beyond.  This can be used to greatly reduce the costs of shipping material from the moon to the earth, or to the lagrangian libration points for L-5 style colony construction.  Such economies may make lunar colonization not just practical but positively worthwhile.

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