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Living on the Moon: Lessons for Mars


A variety of technical challenges await future human settlement of Mars, including (1) risks of ionizing radiation during long-term transit in interplanetary space, (2) aerobraking in the Martian atmosphere with potential Mars lander instabilities, (3) surface-radiation and weather hazards, and (4) resource extraction. These challenges can be best addressed with lunar missions that involve similar tasks to those on Mars—construction of living facilities, in situ resource utilization (ISRU), and protection from radiation both during transit and residence. The potential for exposure of astronauts to ionizing radiation with current chemical-propulsion technology is much less for 3-day Earth-to-Moon transit than for an Earth-to-Mars voyage (>200 days). However, Earth-to-Mars transit time could be reduced to <50 days with advanced ion rockets. Technology for shallow-subsurface habitations to reduce radiation and temperature flux has already been developed for the Moon. These habitations include inflatable dome structures and sinterhabs composed of lunar regolith fabricated on the lunar surface. Other shallow-subsurface habitations can be located in collapsed lava tubes, both of which occur on the Moon and Mars. Stress testing of these habitats on the Moon can result in more resilient structures for Mars. Lessons learned from resource extraction on the Moon can also be applied to Mars. Ice exists on both the Moon and Mars and can serve as raw material for both breathing atmosphere and for rocket fuel. However, it remains to be demonstrated that ice can be reliably collected, transported, and refined in a remote environment. Lunar metals such as titanium, magnesium, and iron occur in basaltic mare, and along with helium-3 and hydrogen (potential sources of rocket fuel), can be mined with currently available technology. Lunar orbital depots for fuel and life-support materials have benefits for mission economics and can also serve as temporary accumulation areas for materials transport to Earth's surface. Future advances in technology and planetary engineering on the Moon, a perfect proving ground, will offer humans a steppingstone to Mars, ultimately leading to a sustained human presence in space.