International Team Explores Lunar Base Proposals

20 June 2002

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer

A first-of-its-kind workshop is underway in Europe to blueprint extraterrestrial bases for human settlement of the Moon. The international lunar base design study involves the talents of engineers, architects, industrial designers and specialists in medicine and psychology.

The multi-nation moon base conference is being held at the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Space Research Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, from June 10-21. Experts are hammering out concepts for bases to support a human return to the Moon.

A trio of Moon base scenarios is at the core of the 2002 Lunar Base Design Workshop. Each case study focuses on a 2020 timeframe to establish a small permanent habitat on the lunar surface.

Study teams are comprised of students with a bachelor's degree or higher, versed in a variety of disciplines.

Tin can design: out with the old

Driving the workshop is the need to show the European Space Agency (ESA) that the time for a Moon base project is now, said Paul van Susante, a civil engineer who is co-managing the study. He is also a research assistant at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

"We're taking an interdisciplinary, reasonable, and systematic approach," van Susante told "The lunar base designs of the past are pretty limited…and don't incorporate the specific conditions of living on the Moon for extended periods of time. The tin can design is outdated and not necessary anymore," he said.

Groups of lunar base designers are diving into case studies that involve a six-person outpost, situated near the Moon's South Pole. Some production capacity would be available to habitat dwellers in the year 2020. Lunar surface material, for instance, can be transformed into building materials and simple forms of solar cells. Use of remotely controlled robots is envisioned too.

Selenology scenarios

Each of the case studies assumes that each "lunarnaut" would have approximately 4 hours a day to spend on a major task. Other available time would be divided up into scientific pursuits, test and research duties, as well as maintenance of hardware.

Moon base case study scenarios are:

  • Creating a full-scale factory for the production of solar cells and other elements to build solar power stations in Earth orbit;
  • Installing infrared/visible light astronomical equipment at the bottom of a crater; and
  • Carrying out scientific investigations of lunar ice found within permanently shadowed craters around the South Pole. In this third scenario, lunar ice mining is evaluated to produce water and rocket propellant.

Lunar outposts are to be designed for comfort as well as utility. Power, communications, and other Moon base logistics to support work activities are also being assessed.

Coaching the students are specialists from ESA, NASA Johnson Space Center, and several universities. In addition, ESA astronaut, Wubbo Ockels and Apollo moonwalker, Harrison Schmitt, are offering their help during the workshop.

Sponsoring organizations for the creative confab of students include ESA/ESTEC, the Austrian Space Agency, the Lunar Explorers Society and the International Lunar Exploration Working Group.

Flexible approach to frontiers

That multi-country mix is critical, said workshop co-manager, Susmita Mohanty, an industrial designer at MoonFront, LLC, based in San Francisco, California.

"We have some 40 students participating in the workshop. The students are from 12 different European countries and four non-European countries. They bring with them diverse backgrounds, from architecture and industrial design to physics, engineering, and other fields," Mohanty said.

"Before we can go to Mars we have to regain the capacity to go to the Moon and make sure everything works," van Susante said.

"Space agencies should be convinced about the power of young minds and their flexible approach to frontiers. International, interdisciplinary cooperation among young eager students is a very powerful tool. Remember that…during the Apollo project…approximately 80 percent of the people working on that effort were younger than 30 years of age," van Susante added.

Innovate not imitate

Hans-Jurgen Rombaut, an architect from the Netherlands, specializes in lunar architecture.

A fellow workshop manager, Rombaut has high hopes that students can shed old think regarding lunar architecture.

"Fresh ideas on various problems are needed to design a lunar base. For example, dealing with extreme temperatures and high radiation levels on the Moon. I hope these students will 'innovate' and not 'imitate'," Rombaut told

"I hope that in the near future, more architects will join the discussion on space architecture. They need to join the engineers now and not after the first habitats are built," Rombaut said.

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