This rule is one of the big ways Lunar Homesteading differs from almost all of the other plans out there. The current paradigm is focused on large scale. Sure, everything starts with a small base with a temporary crew. But it quickly ramps up from there. The amount of regolith they expect to process is in the thousands of tons. The settlement and mining activity sprawls across the landscape (just look at most of the drawings). The settlement itself is large (check out some of the more recent design contests), cool looking, and filled with highly trained expert personnel.
I get it. Large scale is motivating. It’s visually and emotionally appealing. It looks like all the science fiction we’ve seen. It’s where we want to end up. It’s inspiring.
And it is all fiction. Any settlement is made up of lots (and I mean LOTS) of individual components (like storing electricity or keeping the air smelling fresh). Almost all of the tech we need for a settlement, of any size, only exists on paper (if it exists at all). How can anyone design any kind of settlement without having the specifications for real equipment? A small Homestead is going to require thousands of components to actually function. A large base/town/city is going to require so much more.
Lunar Homesteading does it differently. Our end goal is a much more modest settlement housing a smaller group of people just living their lives. Replicated hundreds, or thousands, of times. Some of these Homesteads will continue to grow and expand their capabilities; eventually becoming towns and cities. But that’s beyond the scope of LH. Our end goal is small and self-supporting. Lunar Homestead is working on defining the components first, then we’ll start building actual Homesteads.
Here are some of the advantages of keeping things small scale:
- Small scale is much less expensive to ship. Less people, life support, ISRU machines, habitats, and all the other gear needed to establish a viable settlement. Lower transportation costs will make settlement more likely and will reduce the amount of money the Homesteaders need to pay back to their backers.
- Fewer people means we can get away with smaller habitats and simpler support systems. I’m thinking that will equate to less frequent resupply missions from Earth and other cost savings.
- Smaller scale equipment will be easier to build, set up, and maintain. Seriously, it’s a Homestead (and people’s home) not an industrial complex. Some of the equipment in these large-scale proposals is ridiculously large and complex. Smaller gear also naturally leads to built-in redundancy. The failure of a single, large piece of equipment can be catastrophic. The failure of 1 out of 10 devices that do the same thing as the large one is much less of a problem.
- Similar to the point above; small scale equipment is easier for independent researchers to build and experiment with. I know I don’t have the facilities and resources necessary to build large gear.
- Small scale gear also means that we can put it inside the pressure hull. This solves a bunch of problems. Most plans I’ve seen have everything out on the Lunar surface exposed to all kinds of threats. I’ll discuss this in more detail later on.
- If we’re clever enough we may get the tech to the point that a single person or family can operate their own Homestead. Some of us just aren’t all that social and the idea of having a place in the Lunar boonies has some appeal. This would really open the Lunar, and Solar, Frontier.
- If we can perfect the small scale then should be able to figure out how to ramp up to the large scale.
I’ve been told by several people that small scale settlements just aren’t possible. Their biggest complaint is that it takes too many man-hours each day/week/month just to keep the equipment and humans operational (Full Time Equivalent is the term I’ve heard). There just isn’t time to do anything else of value. Their way around that is to have more people to spread out the tasks. This may be true; however, it sounds more like a tech issue to me. Better designed (not necessarily higher) tech should require less maintenance time. This could be a real problem for initial and smaller Homesteads. We won’t really know until we have the actual tech to play with.
The other problem that comes up is having enough of a population to avoid inbreeding. I’ve seen numbers ranging from 98 to 500 . I’m sure with more research I could find all kinds of experts with all kinds of data to support their favorite number. And it doesn’t really matter because the plan is to eventually have a whole world (Luna) full of Homesteads and other settlements. Inbreeding shouldn’t be an issue unless the Homestead in question refuses to let anyone new in. That’s their problem then.
The last problem I’ve heard is that Homesteads are too small to keep people sane. I’ll agree that most people, who have experienced wide open spaces, will find Lunar living too cramped and restricted. Those people will make poor candidates for Homesteading. One study asked people what sized settlement they would be happy to live in. Around 31% said they could live in something the size of a cruise ship or less . Of course, that means nothing until you actually have to commit to it. Several people have spent hundreds of days in the International Space Station and would have stayed longer if they could have. The truth is that we won’t really know until people are doing it.
That’s the take-away here. We won’t know how small we can make the tech until we build it. We won’t know how small the Homesteads, and the populations inside them, can be until people spend a lot of time in them. We won’t know if Lunar Homesteading is viable until we’ve explored all the possibilities.