Why can we not put a space station on the Moon? – Ronak, 17, Jaipur, India
A space station on the Moon could be very useful. It would give future space missions a stopping point between leaving Earth and reaching further into the solar system or even the Milky Way.
One reason we have not built a space station on the Moon is that we do not send people there very often. We have only managed to put astronauts on the Moon six times so far. These lunar landings took place over a three-year period between 1969 and 1972 and were part of a series of space missions called the Apollo Missions.
The type of rocket used to bring the astronauts to the Moon was an extremely powerful one, called a Saturn V, which is no longer produced. This means that we currently do not have a rocket that is powerful enough to get people to the Moon – let alone build a space station there.
We are starting to build powerful rockets again. The space exploration company SpaceX creates newer and larger rockets, which are capable of taking the weight of astronauts to the Moon. Nasa is also planning new missions to take astronauts to the Moon.
However, there is a big difference between a short trip and building a space station on the Moon, which is extremely difficult. One way to do that would be to build it to pieces on Earth, take the pieces to the Moon and collect them there. This would be like how the International Space Station was built: pieces were taken out into space and then assembled by astronauts aboard the space shuttle.
However, the International Space Station is only 400 km from the Earth’s surface. The moon is 384,000 km. Each trip to the Moon would take about three days and would require incredible amounts of fuel, which could potentially increase the climate problems on Earth.
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A much better idea would be to build as much of the base as possible from materials found on the Moon. Moon concrete is being tested on Earth as a possible building material.
On Earth you would make concrete from gravel or sand, cement and water. We have none of these things on the Moon, but what we have is moon dust and sulfur. These can be melted and mixed together. Once this mixture cools, it produces a solid material that is stronger than many materials we use on Earth.
Food and power
We also need to think about what astronauts staying on the space station need. The most important things would be a food supply and electricity to power equipment, food production and breathable air.
Researchers have been working on how to grow food in space. On board the International Space Station, astronauts are conducting experiments to try to grow vegetables using earth cushions. Another option would be to grow plants using hydroponics, which means the plants grow in water, not in soil.
Getting power on the Moon would be more complicated. The best way would be to use solar energy from the Sun. However, the moon rotates every 28 days. This means that a space station in a fixed position on the Moon would be in the sun for 14 days and then dark for 14 days – and without light, solar-powered equipment would not work without a major improvement in battery storage.
One way to get around this problem would be to build the space station at either the Moon’s north or south pole and raise the solar panels above the surface. The panels would get constant sunlight as they can rotate and not be blocked by the planet at all.
Alternatively, we may not need a base on the Moon’s surface at all. Instead, Nasa plans to build a satellite to orbit the moon. Rockets launched from the moon’s surface use more fuel to escape the Moon’s gravity, but that would not be so difficult from a satellite. That means it would be even better than a base on the Moon; a gateway for missions heading further into the solar system.