Nearly 50 years after humans first set foot on the moon, it’s a hot destination once again.
Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency, has advocated for creation of an international “moon village,” in which humans and robots work together on mining operations, astronomy, or other projects on the lunar surface. More recently, NASA has been directed to prioritize human moon exploration before visiting Mars.
It may be a long road back to the moon, however. Although rockets like NASA’s Space Launch System or SpaceX’s just-tested Falcon Heavy are in the works, substantial funding will be required to come up with everything from landers to spacesuits to lunar habitats. Engineers will have to find a way to achieve long-term stays under harsh lunar conditions, which include debilitating dust and alternating, two-week periods of strong sunlight and cold darkness.
So lunar advocates are already getting organized. Late last year, the newly formed Moon Village Association released a 75-page workshop meeting report. The group would like to see human moon missions in the 2030s, preceded by robotic missions and a “build-up of orbiting transportation, communications and observation.”
With more than 150 members (individuals, companies and agencies) in 30-plus countries, the group says its international status allows it to stay independent of vacillations in national space priorities. The United States, for example, briefly showed interest in human moon missions in the 1980s (under President George H.W. Bush) and early 2000s (under George W. Bush), but the last administration under Barack Obama favored missions to nearby asteroids, and turned away from lunar exploration.
The Moon Village Association would like the current show of interest in the moon to last. “We see ourselves as almost like the Aerospace Industries Association in the U.S.,” says John Mankins, vice-president of the association’s board. “We’re hoping to be a forum and a venue where the new space startups, major companies and major ongoing space agency programs can gather and coordinate various aspects of the moon vision,” he says. Mankins used to manage exploration systems research and technology at NASA in the 2000s. Today he is the president of Mankins Space Technology as well as Artemis Innovation Management Solutions, a consulting firm.
The new association doesn’t plan to produce a rigid roadmap for space agencies to follow. Its goal is to be a “permanent global informal forum” for development of a moon village. In that sense, it’s similar to space advocacy groups such as the National Space Society. But Mankins says the Moon Village Association is more international in its membership.
The association plans to hold a second workshop later this year. Topics will include international engineering standards for lunar construction, finding a market for supplying the moon village, and managing “cultural considerations” among participating nations with different space policies. The association also is actively soliciting members from outside the usual space powers; one near-term plan is to open a chapter in Africa.