Several aerospace organisations along with the governments of many leading countries have been planning missions to the moon due to a renewed interest in space travel over the last few years. It has been five decades since humans first set foot on the moon, and since then various space missions have been launched to explore the earth’s neighbour. With moon being such a rage, humans now wish to colonise it and settle there permanently. A vision that might have seemed far-fetched some time back is now in the process of being conceptualised over the next few years. Perhaps, the future we witnessed in the Star Wars series is not far away.
With this aspiration to settle on the moon, an American architectural services company is taking the initiative to extend humans’ presence beyond the earth. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has released a design for the ‘Moon Village’, a concept presented by ESA Director General Jan Woerner for the first full-time human habitat on the lunar surface. With ESA and MIT, SOM is master planning, designing, and engineering the settlement.
“The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design,” said design partner Colin Koop. “The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.”
Since it might not be under the architect’s purview to be able to overcome certain scientific and space related challenges, a cross-disciplinary collaboration with the space and research organisations was an immediate response. ESA is providing a diverse range of expertise from the European Astronaut Centre and the European Space Research and Technology Centre. This experience is coupled with faculty from MIT’s Aerospace Engineering Department, and SOM’s own experience in architecture, engineering, urban planning, and sustainable design, to bring a holistic approach to the project.
The master plan envisions the 'Moon Village' on the rim of Shackleton Crater near the South Pole, which receives near continuous daylight throughout the lunar year. This planning is essential for the first of three envisioned development phases -several critical infrastructural components and habitable structures - that would allow the Village to harness sunlight for energy and set up in situ resource utilisation (ISRU) experiments, or the generation of food and other life-sustaining elements using the moon’s natural resources.
Water from the permanently shadowed depressions near the South Pole would be extracted to create breathable air and rocket propellant for transportation, and for the support of industrial activities. The settlement would be clustered close to the crater’s water-ice deposits. Additionally, each cluster of modules would be connected to enable seamless mobility between structures, with communications towers on the highest ridges of the uneven terrain.
The individually pressurised modules are designed to inflate and expand to increase user space for future growth and programme requirements. The concept calls for three to four-story structures, with workspaces, living quarters, and environmental control and life support systems. These inflatable structures would provide - together with regolith-based protective shells - resistance to extreme temperatures, projectiles, regolith dust, and solar radiation. More importantly, these features would enable the 'Moon Village' to carry out its much larger purpose as a scientific, industrial, and entertainment development, and an endeavour with far-reaching goals.
The 'Moon Village' is an open, multi-partner concept that not only fits into the space agency’s reflection on future exploration beyond 2050, but also complements projects that are already validated by ESA’s member states - and into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Strategic Plan to “extend human presence deeper into space and to the moon for sustainable long-term exploration and utilisation.”
With resiliency and self-sufficiency being the key design principles, this ambitious project provides an excellent opportunity to explore the moon in its entirety, spurring research and commercial growth, and also serves as a stepping stone to aim even higher. It is certainly a giant leap for mankind!