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Tuesday 31 May 2016

Homes in space part 2: Planetary bases...

Things have been pretty exciting for space fans, with the successful deployment of the new BEAM habitat on the International Space Station....

... and SpaceX landing its third consecutive reusable booster (it's fourth in total)...

But... what if you’re away from Earth and don't feel like camping out in the big black? Well, bases on the surfaces of some of the more nearby worlds have been designed and proposed for decades - and are slowly looking more of a question of 'when' than 'if'….


ESA is currently trumpeting the idea of a 3D printed Moonbase, made at least partly from the lunar soil. Habitat modules – and you could use the exact same types of module used to build space stations - would be buried beneath meters of lunar dirt to provide radiation protection. The prime site for such a base would be at the lunar poles: That would put it close to places of scientific interest (like the valleys of eternal shadow), and close to mountain tops that get almost nonstop sunlight. That would give the base an abundant power supply, and the ices frozen in the dark valleys would allow the base to experiment with producing their own water, oxygen, and fuel. 

Above: An artists impression of ESA's proposed 'Moon Village'. Courtesy of ESA.

Martian Base:

On Mars ice is abundant near the surface in many areas, but the thin atmosphere is a pain: It’s thick enough to produce global dust storms that can block out the Sun for months (and plummet the surface temperatures waaay below freezing), making solar power unreliable – but it’s too thin to provide much radiation protection, or any real help in landing a spacecraft big enough to carry people. And, because the launch windows to and from Mars are so far apart, a Mars base will have to be built as apart of any attempt to and people there: They will be there for months at least. 

Above: Artists impression of a Martian outpost, courtesy of NASA.

For a larger base on the Moon or Mars you could look to their networks of tunnel like lava tubes. These tunnels, carved out by ancient lava flows, can be nearly a mile across, and would provide protection for a small city, even from the fiercest solar storms….

Venus Base:

An artist's impression of a Venusian base, courtesy of Xmadedx
This idea was floated*** decades ago: Although the surface of Venus is much like one of the less salubrious suburbs of hell, there is a layer in the atmosphere, about seventy kilometers up, where the temperature and air pressure are compatible with liquid water and human life, radiation levels are tolerable, and the gravity is 90% of Earth-normal.  
In the Venusian atmosphere breathable air is a lifting gas, so a light weight dwelling full of Earth-normal air will simply… hang there. In fact, this layer of Venus atmosphere is actually the friendliest spot for humans in the whole solar system: It holds fewer challenges to overcome than even Mars.  

If this sounds a little like something from Star Wars that’s because it’s exactly like Bespin city from Empire Strikes Back – but it could really be built, no sci-fi antigravity needed (and no CGI either, thank god)...

There would still be the teensy problem of all the acid clouds to overcome, but humankind has been protecting our structures from corrosion for centuries. And probes sent to hover on balloons through the Venusian clouds have held up pretty well.

The inhabitants of such a place would probably be scientists studying the planet below – from an aerostat home they could remote control robots on the surface, trying to unlock Venus’s mysteries. There’re also plenty of unusual chemical phenomena in the acid rain clouds. So, if you’d like to drift off to the sound of (battery acid strength) rain on you window, head for Venus.

Next: Homes for the far future: Terraformed planets,Torus’s, O’niell cylinders, and ring worlds..

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