Homestead equipment operates in a protected, pressurized environment

OK, we’ve already covered why Lunar surface operations are bad news. So, why would anyone design bases and settlements with all kinds of equipment exposed on the surface? Cool factor, I guess. And yet, almost all the plans and images for current (and past) Lunar bases/settlements show people and gear all over the surface.

This rule builds off of the previous one. Homesteaders are creating habitable underground space for a number of reasons. This is one of them.

Habitable space is at a premium on Luna so why “waste” it by putting as many functions in it?

Easier design

This is huge. Designing equipment to operate in a high radiation, dusty, thermally unstable, vacuum environment is hard. It takes lots of time and money. It’s 2020 and we still don’t have an operational Lunar robot designed to move regolith or build things. And some people have been working on this for decades.

By placing most of the equipment in a habitable environment we bypass the need for extensive (and expensive) testing. The surface environment makes failure highly likely but the equipment can’t be allowed to fail due to the high cost of building it and getting it there. So, everything get’s tested and redesigned until we’re sure it’s going to work. This can take years. The testing will be much easier/faster/cheaper if we remove most of the variables (especially the environmental surface conditions).

Finally, equipment designed and build for a 1 Standard Lunar Homestead Atmosphere (1 SLHA) won’t require the use of exotic materials or special tricks to survive the Lunar surface. Standard lubricants boil off in a vacuum so special ones have to be used. Electronics have to be heavily shielded from radiation. Keeping the dust out of equipment is something we haven’t really solved for yet. All of this increases complexity, reduces self-sufficiency, and makes repair/maintenance more difficult. It’s just a lot easier to avoid the whole mess altogether.

Easier construction

Building and installing the equipment in a shirt-sleeve environment will be magnitudes easier, and safer, than doing it on the surface. Extra Vehicular Activities (EVA) are high risk under the best of conditions.  They don’t get safer with industrial equipment thrown into the mix.

In addition to all the other hazards, working in a space suit for long periods of time is physically exhausting. Homesteaders aren’t going to be perfect specimens at the peak of physical health (maybe some will but it shouldn’t be assumed). Tired people make mistakes. Mistakes in space are usually fatal. It’s just an unnecessary risk that we can remove simply by moving the equipment to a safer environment.

Actually building stuff on the surface is another problem. We have no experience with Lunar construction. The Apollo astronauts deployed equipment but that’s not the same as building equipment. Our experience with constructing the ISS shows that it’s not easy. Sure, microgravity is different than 1/6 gravity but most of the problems with space suits still apply. The gloves are hard to manipulate and make tool use difficult. Simple tasks that take only minutes to do in a habitable environment can take hours when wearing a space suit [96]. They can even make your fingernails fall off [97]. Homesteaders can get a lot more done, and be safer doing it, when everything is inside the Homestead.

Easier maintenance and repair

Everything mentioned above applies here as well. Plus, it’s much faster to get to the problem if you don’t have to put on a suit, do a multi-hour pre-breath to avoid getting a decompression injury, and then walk (or drive) to the equipment. Now try to do that when it’s a critical piece of equipment and your life, and your family’s lives, are on the line.

It’s also human nature to put off routine maintenance when it’s dirty, dangerous, or unpleasant. This may not apply to a highly controlled NASA mission but it will absolutely happen in Homesteads occupied by regular people living their lives. Anything we can do to make maintenance easier will increase the overall safety of every Homestead.

Ease of operation

OK, so with everything we just covered it makes sense to keep people inside as much as possible. How will all this complex machinery, located on the surface, operate without constant human attention. Automation to the rescue! “Automate everything” has been the battle cry for decades so why should Lunar settlements be any different?

Here are the problems with automation for Lunar Homesteads. First, automation adds complexity, decreases self-sufficiency, and decreases reliability (more things to go wrong). I see it adding to the problem instead of solving it. Second, Homesteads would probably have to import the automation components because they can’t manufacture them on site. Not the direction we want to be heading. Third, automation doesn’t solve the problems associated with construction, repairs, and maintenance on the Lunar surface. In fact, the added complexity would most likely make them more difficult.

I’m all for automation when it’s inside the habitat (where it can be maintained). And if it can be made locally instead of having to come from Earth.

Forces a smaller scale

Building the equipment inside the pressure hull will force us to design smaller scale stuff. From the previous section we’ve learned that this is a good thing. I won’t repeat all the benefits here.

Habitable space is a by-product of resource extraction

Homesteads will be constantly expanding their habitable space, if they are using SPORE, because they’re always going to need more resources. Oxygen for their own use and to sell. Metals to make products for themselves or the cis-Lunar market. You get the picture. At some point habitat space will become less of an issue.

What about equipment that produces dangerous waste (heat, toxins, noise, vibration, etc.)? How are we going to keep our habitats pleasant and safe? Obviously, we’ll have to design equipment that minimizes or eliminates hazards. This will probably mean that some processes that are accepted on Earth won’t be allowed on Luna. They probably shouldn’t be allowed on Earth either, but that’s a whole other issue. And some waste (such as heat) should be captured and used for other processes and equipment. Overall, this shouldn’t be a problem if we’re clever with our designs.

It’s cool to think about people in space suits out on the surface building and maintaining stuff. The drawings, paintings, photos, movies, and TV shows sure make it look fun and exciting. Actually doing it will probably be a lot less fun. Especially if it involves many hours every day for many months or years.

Resources

96) https://www.space.com/34263-what-its-like-working-in-space.html

97) https://www.space.com/9217-spacesuit-gloves-astronauts-fingernails-fall.html

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