I am very interested in outer space and the advancement of technology. I would like to get your opinion on what time-frame we can expect humans to start to colonize on the moon? I find this topic really interesting.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would we? The Moon is a very hostile place. Toxic dust, long cold nights, gravity, radiation. Inhabiting a space station would be much easier and safer. If humans should "inhabit" space outside of Earth at all. I really don't know why we should do that. But if the benefits are explained, then some investment calculus becomes possible. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jul 25 '14 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff A radio-astronomy station on the "rear" side of the moon would be of scientific interest, and may benefit from (occasional) human presence. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff if exploitation of space resources becomes profitable, there's incentive for human presence. Extra-terrestrial mines would probably be mostly robotic and tele-robotic. But a human presence nearby would eliminate light lag latency and make higher bandwidth possible. A human presence to repair and maintain robots is also desirable. $\endgroup$ – HopDavid Jul 25 '14 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ @HopDavid (and gerrit) I'd love to see people living on the Moon, just for fun. But I don't think it will happen, because I see no reason. Visits by technicians and geologists I think would be another thing than inhabitation. Light time lag Earth-Moon I think is not worth so many billions of dollars to get rid of. Astronauts in space suites have not proven to be very productive at work anyway. There is a serious need of answering the WHY question, not only the HOW. It is possible, but what would it be good for? Then we can deduce WHEN it would be good to do. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jul 25 '14 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ Do humans inhabit Antarctica? I think human "habitation" of the moon might at best be similar to human "habitation" of Antarctica, with scientists, technicians, and support staff being at research stations for anything from a couple of weeks to many months. But permanent living? I expect not. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 18:01

Bigelow Airspace did a study in which they claim various companies were interested in moon bases. They claim that inflatable moon bases could be in use by the late 2020s or early 2030s.

Inflatable Space Base

Russia plans on establishing a permanent presence on the moon in 2030.

Moon Base Concept

[Image Source]

Are these too optimistic? It is too early to tell. Technologically speaking, they are certainly possible, but whether or not they will be economically feasible is still a grey area.

  • $\begingroup$ Is the Earth too small in the second image? $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit I don't know. What do you think? $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jul 25 '14 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ I'm used to seeing it larger but then again, with a varying camera angle and zoom you can make it seem as large as you want... $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Is it just me, or did they copy the Apollo 17 lunar rover and fix her up? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 1 '14 at 18:36

There are not too many good reasons (I mean, economically justified, as opposed to mere awesomeness) to establish permanent bases on the Moon, let alone colonies. "Good" reasons include:

  • Science: the Moon is a good place for astronomy. The lack of atmosphere allows for a clear view, and there are craters at the lunar poles where one can benefit from permanent shadow (direct sunlight implies heat, which is a big issue for observations in the infrared band). Any place on the far side of the Moon will be good for radio-astronomy (a nice shield against emissions from Earth-based mankind).

  • Helium-3: this isotope of Helium is exceedingly rare on Earth, but relatively more abundant on the Moon (exact mechanism for this abundance is not really known, but there it is). 3He can theoretically be used for nice aneutronic nuclear fusion reactions (reactions which yield no free neutron as byproduct, thus much less resultant radioactive hazard). When fusion plants begin to work, and then are improved to also work with 3He fusion (which is harder to achieve than Deuterium-Tritium fusion), then (and only then) it may become economically sound to go mining on the Moon.

  • Transportation: the Moon can be a good step in the colonization of other bodies in the Solar system: it is much easier to send bulk material to Mars if you start from the Moon surface than the Earth surface, since lunar gravity is much lower than Earth's. This makes sense if there is some bulk material that is needed for a Martian colony, and is available both on Earth and the Moon.

  • Agriculture: on the Moon you can have all the sunlight you want, a lot of free space to grow crops, and controlled meteorology. You would need, of course, some sort of pressurized dome, but the gas can be extracted from the rocks, and plants can actually help in recycling the CO2 from the human colonists. The Moon as the basis for global human nutrition is a long term goal, unlikely to be relevant for a long time. It may help a lot, though, if some food must be produced and sent to some other base on a less propitious emplacement. (An agricultural Moon society is described in Heinlein's sci-fi novel "The Moon is a harsh mistress"; but sci-fi is fiction.)

It is unlikely that Moon colonization would begin for mere lack of space on Earth. It is way easier to establish a permanent colony in the Sahara, Gobi desert or Antarctica than the Moon. As long as there is space in Earth deserts (and space is not lacking there), then the Moon does not make much sense as a destination for pioneers.

Once the decision to go to the Moon is taken, it can be done in a relatively short time. At the time of the Apollo missions, the time frame from "political decision" to "Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the Moon" was less than a decade. Technology from the 1960s was sufficient. In fact, the promise of Moon base "within ten years" has been made again and again, repeatedly, and it always failed to become reality, because of lack of money and political push, not because of any insurmountable technical issue. Shortly put: a Moon base, yeah, but what for ?

In practice, USA went to the Moon because they needed to beat the Soviets. Once they won the race, it became meaningless; they did a few extra performances (Apollo 11 to 17) then cancelled the show because of its price and falling audiences (Apollo 18 to 20 were never launched). What might motivate the USA to go again to the Moon would be a Chinese mission. If China sets foot on the Moon and begins to build a permanent base, then you can be sure that within 8 years (at most) some American base will be started too.

  • $\begingroup$ Your arguments are common, but I think they are failed. Science is better made in empty space, like all space telescopes do. No need to land them on the Moon. He-3 is not yet useful as a fuel, and its practical mining potential on the Moon is largely unknown today. Transportation is a big argument against the Moon, since it is a gravity well. And agriculture, well I don't understand that at all. Doesn't the Moon lack nitrogen, carbon, water? Aren't the 14 day long nights very cold and destructive? $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jul 25 '14 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ I also read the science fiction "The moon is a harsh mistress", and found the agriculture argument particularly fictional. The moon has no soil. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff The moon offers permanent shadow from Sun and Earth, unlike empty space. I think the science one is the only one that is relevant; but I don't think anyone is willing to spend the required money just for science. And it doesn't require colonisation, of course. $\endgroup$ – gerrit Jul 25 '14 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @gerrit Maybe a little sunshield does the same. But much more cheaply than landing on the Moon. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Jul 25 '14 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @LocalFluff there is nitrogen, carbon and water in the polar cold traps. How much is still unknown. Neighboring the polar cold traps are plateaus that enjoy near constant illumination. $\endgroup$ – HopDavid Jul 26 '14 at 0:12

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