Mars or bust! Further moon exploration linked to future Mars projectsNews Science 

Mars or bust! Further moon exploration linked to future Mars projects

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The discovery of large lava caves and several tunnels on the Moon have invigorated space agencies and star gazers as their minds raced at the thought of potential settlements. Unlike the lave tubes and caves found on Earth, the ones found by the Japan’s space agency JAXA are big enough to comfortably house an American city the size of Philadelphia. Understandably, scientists are intrigued as to the potential of using these large passageways and caverns as a covered enclave.

These formations have been created by ancient volcanic activity on the moon, and except for their sensational size, are similar to those found on Earth. Lava tubes and caves are formed when a lava flow cools and develops a hard crust and the remaining flowing lava drains, leaving behind a solid structure capable of withstanding a great amount of pressures and external factors – far more than the usual equipment currently available with modern technology.

Part of the reason these caves are catching the eye of the scientific community is their ability to shield astronauts from harsh sun rays and radiation. These issues are what have limited human exploration on the Moon, with the last manned mission having been carried out 48 years ago. With a shelter able to withstand these factors, it certainly gives space agencies and private contractors looking to explore the Moon a viable option.

theoretical lunar lava tube
The city of Philadelphia is shown inside a theoretical lunar lava tube. A Purdue University team of researchers explored whether lava tubes more than 1 kilometer wide could remain structurally stable on the moon. (Purdue University/courtesy of David Blair)

The question then looms: does this make the colonization of the Moon more feasible, and can we actually do it?

Scientists do believe they would be able to eventually setup an outpost on the Moon, with China leading the effort on that front, but with the discovery of these caves, it certainly simplifies certain aspects. A successful colonization of the Moon could then help set up a manned mission and eventual colonization of Mars, which certain private entities and agencies have earmarked as a possibility within our lifetime. Should the Moon be colonized and technology refined to the point where self-sustainability and other issues are sorted, it would be a big win for space exploration.

As US Vice-President Mike Pence reiterated in an address earlier this year, the United States view a successful Moon mission as the first step prior to further explorations and manned Mars missions.

“The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.”

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