Cyberpunk lit pioneer William Gibson once said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” There’s no doubting the second part—new technology will replicate the inequality of old technology. But for the next few paragraphs, let’s think about the first part. The future is already here. For example, we’re just going to, you know, colonize the moon in about ten years.
The idea of visiting and eventually living on the Moon is solidly grounded in the history of speculative fiction. As the nearest otherworldly body, its occupation seems a feasible and almost imperative scenario—and has seemed so for a long, long time. The Best Sci Fi Books blog has a post with the 17 best works of fiction about Moon settlements. The post includes Griffin’s Egg, by Michael Swanwick, a short 1992 novel where Moon settlers watch as the Earth is enveloped in global war; Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall, depicting a nervous U.S. Vice President on a disaster-befallen Moon visit; and some classics like H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, Jules Verne’s From Earth to Moon, and the 1638 fantasy The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin, which has a legitimate claim to being pre-Mary Shelley sci-fi, even though the protagonist rides a bird to get to his destination.
So one kind of feels a magic in the aspirational announcements of the European Space Agency and NASA, both of which are itching to colonize the Moon and have the political will to talk and act on that aspiration even when budgets are tight. NASA wants a “sustained presence” on the Moon by 2028. In 2015, Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency, introduced the concept of the “Moon Village”—not a Leave it to Beaver-like neighborhood on the Moon, but rather “a community created when groups join forces without first sorting out every detail, instead simply coming together with a view to sharing interests and capabilities.” The idea was to bring interested parties together from around the planet, collaborating on science, robotics, and entrepreneurial ideas, to collectively and non-hierarchically design a moon-based habitat.
Although Woerner discourages thinking of a Moon Village as a physical, capturable thing, many artists and thinkers create those images anyway, and it’s unclear how much thought they’ve given to transport and construction logistics. Never fear, though: 3D printing technology will be critical for construction of the habitats and equipment. That will require transporting the technology to do the printing, as well as the “printer cartridges” of matter from which to print, but it makes more sense than any alternative. The architectural firm Foster+Partners has outlined “an entire a lunar base,” that can be printed, presumably powered by solar energy.
China wants in on colonization, and plans to build a scientific research station on the Moon’s south pole in about ten years.
Global space agencies, particularly NASA, are currently concentrating on landing systems and the return of astronauts, this time in a much more focused surveying role. Recently NASA awarded contracts to SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics, for lunar landing systems. The agency’s spokespeople say astronauts, including a woman, will be back in just four years. These companies will develop lunar landing systems in an effort to return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface as soon as 2024, as Ars Technica reports.
Passenger transport is also a priority: SpaceX’s “Super Heavy rocket-powered Starship” will eventually be able to take 100 passengers into space at once—a historically unprecedented passenger capacity. The fact that air transport giant Boeing didn’t make the cut, even though it has historically contracted with International Space Station projects and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, suggests that the government wants to go with new private sector leadership from more cutting-edge companies, which makes sense if you believe, as an imperative, that we are living in the future.