16 Nov 2015

Should we build a village on the moon?

12:47 pm on 16 November 2015

The new director general of the European Space Agency wants to build a village on the far side of the moon.

Aurora seen from the Space Station.

Aurora seen from the International Space Station Photo: NASA / Scott Kelly

Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner believes space agencies need to look beyond the International Space Station, and a moon base base could house a telescope to peer deeper into our galaxy.

Prof Woerner came to the role in July, and is the former chair of the German space agency. He is now in charge of an $8 billion annual budget, and is responsible for the ESA's wide range of work, including weather, communication and navigation satellites, astronauts on the international space station and missions to Mars, Mercury and Jupiter.

Based in Paris, he told Kathryn Ryan on Nine To Noon that he believed the terrorist attacks inthe French capital on the weekend heightened the need to look beyond our planet's borders, to give hope to young people, struggling with Earth's issues of terrorism, hunger and poverty.

"It's very important that we give the youth... a feeling that it makes sense to work for the future... inspiration is a very important issue."

Director General of the European Space Agency, Johann-Dietrich Woerner

Johann-Dietrich Woerner Photo: Esa.int

"We should have international cooperation, without any limitations, with any countries of the world," Prof Woerner said. "We have enough earthly problems between different nations - space can bridge these earthly problems and the moon seems to be to be a good proposal."

Prof Woerner said that while space activities, of course, have their daily uses, such as communication, navigation and scientific charting of climate change, the field also has a societal purpose to inspire and "to support curiousity".

"Experience shows that there is no wall between exploration and practical applications," he said. "Look at the greenhouse effect - everyone knows what it is and we use satellites to investigate it - but this was not discovered on Earth, it was discovered by an exploration mission to Venus."

He believed humanity should look to the future beyond the International Space Station (ISS), and there were two options - a smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research and a moon base.

Each would provide another project that international space agencies could cooperate on.

"The moon is very interesting because the moon is something like the archive of the Earth," he said. "Because we believe that the moon developed after an impact between some body and the Earth. So the moon is an archive for scientists."

Microgravity is the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless, and Prof Woerner said it was a very important area that needed to be researched in the future - and a moon village on the far side of the moon would be perfect for that.

Moon Express hopes to be the first private company to land on the moon.

Professor Woerner says a base on the far side of the moon would be best as there is no radiation from Earth there Photo: Supplied

Prof Woerner said that the far side of the moon has no radiation from Earth as it's in Earth's shadow - though it's as bright as the near side, and isn't the dark side of the moon - so telescopes looking deep into the universe could be used, and could also conduct lunar science experiments.

"So there is no radiation from Earth, so astronomers like it very much to look into the universe without all the radiation we have from Earth."

He said another good reason for going back to the moon was to use it as a stepping-stone for future deep space travel and further human exploration of the solar system.

"Because I'm quite sure humans will go to Mars, but not as the next step. But we need a next step... which is inspiring (and to) give us some more technology (development)."

Prof Woerner said the technology existed to go to the moon and back in a week, while it currently takes two years to go to Mars and back.

He suggested that while NASA is investigating using technology to construct a Mars base using a giant 3D printer, it would be to try it out on the moon first.

Learning to live on an alien world would be tough - but the challenge would be a lot easier, particularly in an emergency, if the extraterrestrial community was only four days away from Earth.

"The moon is an ideal test bed for us."

Satellites

Photo: 123rf.com

He said any base would be located on the poles, situated between the far side of the moon and the near side of the moon so that research could be conducted in radiation-free conditions, while there would also be permanent sunshine for energy.

Prof Woerner said he believed that there was also water there which could be used for hydrogen and oxygen as propulsion for rockets.

He envisaged his Moon village as a multi-national settlement involving astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and maybe even Chinese taikonauts. This would considerably extend the relatively limited number of nations involved in the ISS.