European Space Agency Wants To Build Far Side Moonbase ‘Lunarville’

In a surprising and refreshing change from the low-profile, unexciting tone of previous official statements by the European Space Agency (ESA), the new Director General ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner stated that the Agency plans to return to the Moon and build a permanent outpost there. The habitat could be built on-site by a giant 3D printer using construction material available on the Moon.

A few months ago I complained about the boring bureaucratic lack of vision of the European Space Agency (ESA), where I worked in the eighties and nineties. When I joined ESA I was incredibly excited and proud to be a small part of the first wave of the greatest adventure of humankind – colonizing space. But then I discovered that ESA was just one more over-bureaucratized European administration, meant to stay within budget, under the radar, and far from the vision thing.

BBC Future writer Richard Hollingham must have been under a similar impression when he set up to interview Woerner. Hollingham expected “a predictable and politically nuanced answer about the economic and social benefits of space or maybe the importance for science of exploring the unknown Universe.”

Instead, Woerner surprises me with a vision for a future of space exploration that is both ambitious and audacious.

ESA Wants to Start Construction of a 3D-Printed lunar habitat

lunerville1Woerner is proposing a Moon village on the far side of the Moon.

“The far side of the Moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe, we could do lunar science on the Moon and the international aspect is very special,” said Woerner. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon – and I don’t see how we can do that – before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the Moon.”

Woerner previously stated that that ESA wants to start construction of a lunar habitat, which it’s calling “Lunarville,” as early as 2024, Business Insider reports. Lunarville would be located in the Shackleton crater, near lunar south pole. ESA and architectural design firm Foster + Partners released a video describing how it plans to use cutting-edge technology such as 3D printers and inflatable habitats to accomplish this, with the goal of supporting up to four astronauts at a time inside the shelter.

I wish to praise Woerner’s vision statement, and I hope it may mark the beginning of a return to better days of space exploration and recover the bold, daring, ambitious spirit of the Apollo program in the sixties. Robotic space missions like ESA’s Rosetta, which landed the Philae probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and found organic material on the comet, are extremely important, but only permanently manned lunar – and then planetary – outposts can re-ignite public enthusiasm for space and start a space renaissance.

“The back side of the Moon, which we can’t see from Earth, would provide the best conditions for research where telescopes could be set up to have an undisturbed view into the depths of space,” said Worner as reported by The Mirror. “At the start construction materials and food would take priority. Later it would be possible to produce water from hydrogen. Crops could be grown in greenhouses. Researchers would remain for several months at a time.”

Woerner said to BBC Future:

In our genes there is something beyond just practical applications. We like to discover, to pioneer – this is humankind and this is what brings us into the future.

Images from European Space Agency and Foster + Partners.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.