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Can China Really Build a Moon Research Station?

By Joshua Chu

The world is still celebrating the historic landing of China's Chang 4 on the far side of the Moon on January 3. This week, China announced its plans to monitor three more lunar missions, laying the foundation for the lunar base.

Colonization of the moon, and beyond, is always a human aspiration. Technological advances and the discovery of a significant source of water near the lunar pillars made this idea even more appealing.

But how close is China doing this?

If we focus on the available technology, China today can start building the base of the moon.


Credit: Reuters / China National Space Administration

The picture on the far side of the moon provided by the Chinese Chang's 4 lunar rover.
The first lunar base

The first lunar base would most likely be an unmanned, robotic automated robotics-like Amazon warehouse-to ensure that the necessary infrastructure and support systems are fully operational before people arrive.

The lunar environment is subject to deep vacuum conditions, strong temperature fluctuations and solar radiation, among other conditions that are hostile to humans. More importantly, we still need not fully understand the long-term influence of the human body on the existence in space and the moon.

The seed taken to the moon from the mission Chang 4 is now reportedly sprouting, although it has since died. This is the first time plants have been planted on the moon, paving the way for a future food farm on the lunar base.

The construction of the lunar base is no different from the construction of the first oil in the ocean. Consideration must be given to the logistics of moving parts, feasibility studies need to be carried out and, in this case, soil samples must be tested.

China made the first step by examining the soil on the surface of the moon. This is necessary for the construction of an underground habitat and an accompanying infrastructure that will protect the base from the harsh surface conditions.

3D print everything

Of all the possible technologies for building a lunar base, 3D printing offers the most effective strategy. 3D printing on Earth revolutionizes productivity and efficiency of production, reducing waste and costs.

China's vision is to develop the ability for 3D printing inside and outside the lunar base. 3D printers have the potential to do everything from everyday items like drinking glasses to fix the parts for the base.

But 3D printing in space is a real challenge. New technologies will be needed to work in the midst of the micro-gravity of the moon. 3D printing machines should be developed that can shape the parts in the vacuum of space.

New materials are needed

We know that Earth materials, such as optical optics, change properties once they are in space. So, Earth-effective materials may not be effective on the moon.

Regardless of the planned use of the 3D printed component, it will have to be resilient to the conditions of the moon. So, the development of the printing material is crucial. Step by step, researchers find and develop new materials and technologies to address this challenge.

For example, researchers in Germany expect that the first non-stainless steel "ready-to-use" tools will be 3D printed with microgravity in the near future. NASA also demonstrated 3D printing technology in zero gravity, demonstrating that 3D space printing is feasible.

To a greater extent we have seen that the houses are printed on 3D on Earth. Likewise, the lunar base is likely to be built using prefabricated parts in combination with 3D large-scale printing.

Examples of how this might look like can be seen in the 3D-typed habitat challenge that was launched by NASA in 2005. Competition aims to advance the 3D printing technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth, the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

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Credit: NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

Habitat Challenge NASA: Tim Gamma shows their design of habitats.
Living on the moon

So far we have focused on the technological feasibility of building the lunar base, but we also need to consider the long-term effect of lunar living on humans. To date, limited studies have been carried out to examine the biological impact on human physiology at the cellular level.

We know that human organs, tissues and cells are highly responsive to gravity, but there is currently no understanding of how human cells function and regenerate.

What happens if astronauts get sick? Will Earth Medicine Continue Working? If astronauts need to live on the moon, these fundamental questions need to be answered.

In the long run, 3D biopressing of human organs and tissues will play a key role in the maintenance of lunar missions, allowing robotic operations. Russia recently demonstrated the first 3D bioprinter that works under microgravity.


Credit: CGTN / Twitter

The Chang's "4" spacecraft as shown in the Chinese state media.
To infinity and farther

Can China build a lunar base? Absolutely. Can people survive on the moon and other planets in the long run? The answer to that is less clear.

What is certain is that China will use it for the next 10 to 15 years to develop the necessary technical capabilities to conduct staffed missions and to set the stage for space exploration.

Read Next: Why We Should Celebrate China's Historical Landing on the Far Side of the Moon

This article was originally posted on Conversation. Read the original article here.

TNL Editor: Nick Aspinoviel (@ Nick1Aspinwall)

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