What would a Lunar Homestead look like?

Let’s be clear; everything in this section is pure imagination and speculation. Almost none of the technology has been researched, let alone actually built and thoroughly tested. At least not yet. Everything is subject to radical, and inevitable, changes.

Underground

One of the key features of Lunar Homesteads that set them apart from other Lunar settlement designs is that they are mostly underground. The Lunar surface environment is rather hostile to life and machines. Book 2 in this series, Lunar Frontier Challenges, will go into details on these hazards. Also, the next chapter, “Rules”, has a section on why it makes much more sense to place Lunar settlements underground.

Certain functions have to be on the surface however. Solar energy collection, launching/landing facilities, and communications are the first to come to mind. Many people also insist that Lunar settlers will demand a way to observe the surface with their own eyes (like with an observation dome). That seems like a risky luxury to me. I personally don’t think having a “room with a view” is worth the risks of increased radiation exposure and other hazards associated with Lunar surface instillations.

Pathfinders (1-3 individuals)

These would be the people that are first in. They will conduct basic resource extraction and the construction of the core habitat/infrastructure. Pathfinders don’t need to be perfect physical specimens or super smart. It won’t hurt but it will be far more important that Pathfinders are mentally tough and resourceful. They will need to thrive in physical isolation (they’ll be able to communicate with people however) and constant danger (space is deadly and unforgiving) with few amenities for an unknown period of time. Pathfinders will be a rare and unique bunch of people.

All Lunar Homesteads start with a kit. The components of the kit will be landed on the Lunar surface by some unspecified vehicle. I’m not worried about designing the transportation because other people are working on that. There will most likely be multiple vehicles to chose from when it comes time to actually build the kits.

Having a standardized kit available to any group of potential Homesteaders will simplify the design and construction, allow for mass production, retire some of the risk, and reduce the price of each kit. One of the biggest cost components for space equipment is that it’s mostly custom-built, hand-made, and limited-run (or one of a kind). That’s no way to settle the Solar system.

A Pathfinder kit would include (but not be limited to):

  • Habitat module – The first Homesteaders will need a place to sleep and take care of themselves while they create the core of the Homestead. The Habitat module doesn’t have to be comfortable or spacious; the goal is to get them underground as fast as possible. All it needs is a place for them to hang their hammocks, go to the bathroom (they could even just use Apollo bags for this), basic life support, communications, and an airlock (with a way to keep the dust out and store the space suits). The airlock will also have a downward-facing hatch that will connect to the vertical tunnel leading to the core. Finally, all the equipment, including the life support, will need to be easy to disassemble and move into the core section of the new habitat because we sure don’t want people to stay on the surface longer than necessary.
  • Energy module – A Homestead without electricity is a dead Homestead. This module is going to keep everyone alive, even when they’ve moved underground into the core section. The module will contain a way to generate electricity (solar electric, solar thermal, and/or nuclear), a way to store electricity through the long night, the equipment to regulate it, and the cables to distribute it. The Homestead will probably need several of these as creating energy production and storage equipment from Lunar resources will probably be beyond the capability of an initial Homestead.
  • Supply module – The Pathfinder crew is going to require enough food, water, and supplies to keep them going while they are building out the Homestead. They’ll probably need several of these modules on a regular basis.
  • SPORE module – This module will contain all the tools necessary to dig out the regolith and mega-regolith as well as pre-made SPORE habitat hull pieces. I figure Homesteads will need several of these modules before they are capable of creating habitats from local materials.
  • ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization) module – Processing Lunar mega-regolith into usable resources is a critical Homestead activity. Iron, oxygen, aluminum, and cast basalt are the foundations of Lunar Homesteads. I haven’t figured it all out yet but this module will contain all the equipment needed to start a very small-scale processing and manufacturing shop. The goal would be to have the capacity to create more equipment to increase the shop’s capacity and then eventually start creating habitat components.

All of these modules would need to be landed near each other but none of them have to be physically connected, unlike in many surface settlement plans.

Homestead expansion

Here’s the really tricky bit. Our Pathfinders have created a small foothold on Luna. It’s rough, uncomfortable, and dangerous. It’s not even a little self-sufficient. Now they have to expand the Homestead and make it safer and more comfortable. And they’ll need to do that with much less imports from Earth. Sure, they could keep paying for modules but that’s going to get prohibitively expensive pretty quickly. It would be much better for them to “live off the land” as much as possible and only get supplies from Earth when absolutely necessary. Lunar Homestead is working on the tech (technology and techniques) they’ll need.

  • Increased energy production and storage – More Energy modules could be landed as needed (if the Homestead can afford them). Homesteads will need to start making their own power equipment pretty quickly however. Expansion will be difficult if the power system doesn’t expand as well. They’ll have to build more solar collectors and ways to store/distribute energy.
  • Expanded life support – The capacity of the system needs to be increased to accommodate more Pathfinders (who will help with the expansion). The depth and redundancy of the system also needs to be increased. Multiple ways to keep the Homestead air and water supplies pure are needed.
  • Increased ISRU – Creating all the additional habitable space is going to require a lot more processing and fabrication equipment. It doesn’t have to be a huge increase however. I’m not talking about processing thousands of tons of basalt a day. Small-scale and simple designs are the key.
  • Garden – I’m not calling it a farm because it won’t be that large or complicated. Initially, the garden will focus on vegetables (and perhaps mushrooms). Maybe some aquaculture. It’s unknown whether processed Lunar basalt can be turned into an acceptable growing media or if we’ll have to research hydroponics.
  • Galley – Or kitchen if you prefer. Either way, Homesteaders are going to need a way to cook all the great food they are going to grow. Protein bars and freeze-dried spaghetti are going to get old really quick. The galley will also be used to prepare food for long-term storage and will probably be the social hub of the Homestead.
  • Waste processing system – Pooping in a bag might work in the short-term but Homesteaders are going to eventually need real toilets (actual design unknown) and systems to process their waste into a usable feedstock.
  • Storage – Unlike all the drawings and illustrations of Lunar bases, Homesteads will store all their supplies underground in habitable modules. Storing stuff on the surface creates a lot of unnecessary problems and putting stuff in a habitable space means you can easily access and maintain it. Homesteads will need to create containers to store water (too many uses to mention), oxygen (for SPORE, breathing, industrial uses, and export), air (for immediate use in an emergency), and food.
  • Housing – Pathfinders might be OK with hammocks and communal living but the Homesteaders that will follow them won’t be. They’re going to want some private living space with a real bed and toilet. I doesn’t have to be large but it does have to be theirs.

These are just a few of the components that will make up a viable Homestead.

Pioneers (small groups or extended families)

The Pioneers arrive after the Pathfinders have created a suitable habitat for them. Pressurized space, life support, electricity, food, water, and a bunch of other stuff have to be in place before the Pioneers show up. The job of the Pioneers is to expand the settlement and make it a far more livable place. Create some amenities, luxuries, and trade goods. Pioneers won’t have to be as mentally tough as Pathfinders as there will be more people to interact with and a more comfortable place to live. But they will still need the frontier spirit, willing to deal with hardship and danger.

At this point the Homestead is really starting to take off.

  • General expansion – Everything listed above (and most likely a lot more) will have to be expanded on to accommodate more Homesteaders. The gardens and workshops should now have the capacity to produce trade, higher-tech, and luxury products.
  • Vehicle garage – Up to this point all the vehicles landing at the Homestead were either single use or designed to return back to Earth orbit on their own, with no maintenance or servicing from the Homesteaders. Now the Homestead can become part of the cis-Lunar transportation system. The landing pad might have to be exposed on the surface (or perhaps not) but the garage should be underground and pressurized. Trying to conduct maintenance or repairs while dealing with radiation, vacuum, thermal extremes, and dust would be very challenging.
  • Vehicle fuel depot – Homesteads are going to produce a lot of oxygen, more than they could ever use themselves. It makes sense to store the excess and sell it. Like almost everything else, the fuel depot should be underground in a pressurized environment. It should also be located next to the garage. As a side note, I’m not sold on the necessity of cryogenic fuels. They require high-tech equipment (tanks, refrigeration, pumps, etc.) and are rather dangerous. It will be a lot easier for Homesteads to make pressurized gas tanks than cryogenic tanks.
  • Medical clinic – Or a sick bay. Depends on the terminology they want to use. Whatever you call it, it’s going to be a dedicated place to take care of sick and injured people. Beds, monitoring equipment (probably brought from Earth), and probably a small surgical suite. A couple of Homesteaders should have some basic medical training but most of the knowledge and experience can be left on Earth. Tele-medicine is already gaining traction here on Earth and it will be commonplace by the time we have Lunar Homesteads.

Settlers (individuals, families, small groups, and everyone else)

Settlers are people that want to live on the frontier but with much less danger and discomfort. By this point the Homestead should be a comfortable place to live. It won’t be as comfortable as an extravagant Earth lifestyle but all the inhabitants’ basic needs will be met and there will be enough comforts to make it appealing. Get enough settlers (and the equipment and supplies to support them) in a big enough Homestead and you’ve got yourself a full-blown Lunar village.

I’m not going to try to guess at what a Homestead at this stage would need. More of everything, for sure. Probably a garage for surface vehicles so they can start exploring their local environment. Maybe a larger space for an atrium and/or a large swimming pool. Daycare, schools, and all the other stuff children need. Who knows? I’m sure the Homesteaders will start diverting resources and time to making their home a more comfortable, safer, and desirable place as well.

Once that happens, I predict that there will be a surplus of people wanting to live in a Lunar Homestead that can provide them with all the comforts (if not consumer variety) of a middle-class American existence. There are a lot of advantages to living on Luna once the discomforts and dangers are minimized.

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