What's Next for Lunar Exploration?
23rd August 2019
Recently the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. We asked Cherwell College's Physics tutor Gerrard Daly for his opinions on what the next fifty years might hold for lunar exploration:
I think that Lunar exploration is about the get underway again after a fifty-year break. This is mainly to do with the fact that there may be profit to be made in the future as opposed to the Apollo missions which were entirely driven by politics. We can certainly have a permanent moon base in much the same way as we have permanent bases in Antarctica or the ISS.
Re-supplying such a base would be a huge on-going cost. A more self-sufficient base or even a colony is also possible. If sufficient amounts of water are found and the enormous supplies of solar energy hitting the surface are tapped, a base could supply oxygen through electrolysis and food by means of hydroponics. Such a base would have to be underground in order to protect it from solar radiation and could be used for exploration, mining and research. Raw materials could be launched from the surface very cheaply and these could be used to manufacture equipment needed to explore the solar system in space.
All of this could be done in the next few decades even without AI and there may well be more than one base, some of which are entirely funded by the private sector. The main problem with having humans in space is that space is a very dangerous place for them to be, and the cost of keeping them safe is large.
There was a school of thought which saw space exploration as being best carried out by machines specially designed for the space environment. This has yielded great benefits especially from interplanetary probes but most people now agree that a human presence at the scene would greatly enhance the quality and quantity of research which could be carried out. If a close human/AI interface could be achieved, then there could be humans present without the need to protect a frail human body.
The moon is quite close to the Earth so a human on earth could have a virtual presence on the moon in real time and this would greatly reduce the number of humans who would need to be physically present. However, the electromagnetic time lag for more distant bodies would make this impossible and a much more extreme form of human/AI integration might be needed. In the end, a spacefaring human/AI might indeed become a separate lifeform and leave us way behind. I don't see this having much impact in the next ten years but the first steps will be taken.
Gerrard holds an MSc in Astrophysics and an MA in Philosophy from the University of London, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Physics, and is an elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has been a tutor at Cherwell College since 1989 and is Head of Department for Physics and Philosophy.
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