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What would a human colony on the moon look like?

I already asked a prelusive question here about the safest place to start a moon colony but I needed further informations. After some answers, I reformatted this question in order to be more specific (to answer @Mikey’s request).

Preamble

We are slightly in the future (something about 2100 or so). A powerful and rich company emerged. Think of what Google would look like many years in the future without any restrictions whatsoever. This company is determined and wealthy and it improved and democratised space-travel and more specifically moon commuting. They succeeded to install a durable settlement on the moon in order to pursue their scientific research and gather some strategic resources and bring them back to the Earth. Moreover, they proved that humanity was capable of space colonisation.

The plan was to prove the concept with a bunch of voluntary scientists before evolving rapidly to become an almost self sufficient city composed of a network of highly connected facilities able to host safely around five thousands persons for several years without any help so workers and scientists could live up there with their family for several years.

The “almost” is very important and the moon-city still has to be dependent on the earth to survive.

From the answer of my previous question I determined that the the Peary Crater is the best choice to start such a settlement. My question is:

What would those facilities look like?

I imagined several district under some sort of glass domes which would keep a local breathable atmosphere and a fixed and determined 'atmospheric' pressure. The districts would be connected together by glass tubes. And the floor could be made out of material from the moon like moon dust which apparently looks very much like concrete.

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Using a sub crater inside the larger main crater would provide a useful compromise between a concrete submarine and a dome.

The ring wall of the crater is the "submarine" part, with multiple chambers, air locks and facilities, while the central part of the crater is domed over to form an atrium, which can be used for recreation and some farming (most of the farming is done indoors, for obvious reasons).

The covering of the dome would actually be a "plastic" dome reinforced with a net made of titanium or some sort of UV resistant superfiber (maybe M-5). The dome is actually two parts, with a 5 metre gap filled with water. The water provides radiation screening, absorbs energy from micrometer impacts and provides a certain amount of thermal buffering during the day. At night mirrors in Lunar orbit reflect sunlight through the dome to provide light and keep the water from freezing up. (The actual material of the dome isn't "plastic" the way we understand it, but some form of supermaterial with high strength, resistance to vacuum and UV radiation and is transparent). Teams of robots climb over the dome providing patching of any small leaks discovered during the patrol.

Two other considerations are the mining needs to be relatively far away from the dome, since lunar dust is very abrasive, and the machinery "hangers" will need to be both "dust free", or have electrostatic or other ways of removing moon dust from machinery and spacesuits. As well, leaving things outdoors will be very hard on equipment due to the large thermal swings between day and night, or even light and shadow, so "thermal hangers" will be needed to store equipment and protect it from large temperature swings. This may be other sub craters covered with a concrete dome (which can be left in vacuum, just full of concrete or rocks to create a thermal buffer and slow temperature swings), or some sort of portable shelter that is pulled over equipment at the end of the shift.

Finally, since the Lunar surface is quite hostile, every effort will be made to minimize human presence on the surface. People will use teleoperation to run the machinery, and repairs might also be done by robots in the "clean rooms" of the hangers or thermal shelters to minimize possible exposure to radiation, vacuum and lunar dust. The work site and the colony site will have huge antenna farms to run all the remote machinery, and the colony will have many large rooms devoted to teleoperation of the various mines and work sites. If this is a corporate "world", then each company will have large areas devoted to teleopertion work centres, with restricted zones, protected server rooms and telecommunications closets to support each corporate operation. The colony itself might either have its own operations centre (best practice) or rent facilities from the "cloud" established by the various corporate entities.

Essentially the interior of the colony will be dominated by multiple "mission control" like rooms and facilities, supported by hydroponic farms and various living and recreation facilities buried in the ring wall.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a potentially separate question, but how would you envision the work schedule if nights are two weeks long? Seems there might not be times when mining equipment goes unutilized, or alternatively it might go unutilized for the entire night. $\endgroup$ – Doug McClean Jul 12 '15 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ Durong the lunar nights, you would probably park your equipment in the thermal shelters, "dust it" to remove lunar dust and do routine maintenance, plus any upgrades or larger repair jobs that need to be done. As well, you might have all the "digging" done during the day and the lunar night is when the ores are processed (using the dark sky to keep the cold traps working). The people are still on a 24hr schedule, but just doing different sets of tasks every 14 days. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 12 '15 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ That dome would be very heavy with a 5 metre water layer... $\endgroup$ – user2051 Jul 13 '15 at 2:01
  • $\begingroup$ 5 m seems to be the amount needed to stop cosmic radiation, solar flares and other hazards. You could go for less, but then risk being able to pass for a night light wham you go back inside...;-) $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Jul 14 '15 at 1:16
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Glass? So that the colonists can look at the beautiful gray moonscapes! Domes? So a single hole can evacuate the entire atmosphere!

If you want your colonists to survive, design your base like a concrete submarine, with lots of pressure tight hatches so that no single breach can cost the entire oxygen supply.

Save your glass for the greenhouses, from which the colonists harvest food and oxygen, and even there, compartmentalize into seperate air-tight chambers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ahah I feel so stupid when I read this. No doubt a big concrete submarine with isolated parts would be less hard to maintain than a big glass dome. Anyway what do you think should be the best for transferring from one 'hatch' to another? $\endgroup$ – Ephasme Jul 11 '15 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ just what I was going to say. unless you institute some sort of hi-tech self-repairing nano-glass handwaving which can withstand exposure to vacuum (causes structures to develop microfractures and become brittle) and radiation (causes your moon men to grow fistulaic tentacles from their foreheads). $\endgroup$ – punkerplunk Jul 11 '15 at 22:57
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    $\begingroup$ The best literary example for a moon base can be found in Heinlein's 'The Moon is a Hash Mistress'. Highly recommended you read before creating your own moon base. $\endgroup$ – punkerplunk Jul 11 '15 at 23:03
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your scenario is not too different than some work I have done before (urban planning in Abu Dhabi: also a harsh climate, with semi-permanent residents brought in for science and resource-extraction). So I will extrapolate that to your Lunar town.

Inside the Base:

Area required - These percentages are going to include a general rule-of-thumb for a complete community for 5,000 people, as well as a speculative number for additional facilities on your Lunar town. This works in steps.

Population

Your workers include about 10% laborers (individuals without family members), and the remaining 90% as families.

500 workers x household population of 1 = 500 people 4,500 workers x household population of 2.4 = 10,800 people Total population including family members = 11,300 people

So these numbers equate to the following Ground Floor Area (GFA)

Residential

Families - 4,500 workers have larger apartments for their families averaging a tight 100m2 (including accessory areas), so 450,000m2 for them

Bachelor/Bachelorette - 500 workers at a tight 70m2 each (including accessory areas), so 35,000m2

Residential unit requirement, assuming 4-story apartments of different size, is 485,000m2, which is a footprint of ~12,000m2 building footprint.

Healthcare

We had an assumption of 3,000m2 per 10,000 inhabitants, so we can squeeze one large clinic in at 3,000m2 GFA. Make this a 2-story clinic, meaning, ~1,500m2 of building footprint.

Education

I apply an assumption of 25% of families are school age children, but I don't even have to do the math to know that you have one K-12 school of about 10,000m2 with space left over. Higher education for such a small community is not needed: they will likely return to Earth for this, or study remotely. Vertical schools at 4-stories with shared facilities and indoor sports is ~2,500m2 building footprint

Office

This will be limited compared to Earth standards, as I expect your Lunar denizens will do much work at home to conserve resources, but you will need conference areas and spaces for visitors, so let's set aside 2,000m2 for those eventualities. At 4-stories, it is ~500m2 of building footprint

Retail/Food/Community Services

Since this is a complete community, but a small one, you can compress these services into a single, multi-use building of about 3,000m2 GFA. This is a small shop, distribution area, gathering place, and a room for religious activity. At 2-stories, it gives us ~1,500m2 of building footprint

Major Infrastructure

Power - Inside the "dome" you will need at least two electrical substations (small, easily built into your buildings or underground). Water Distribution - Negligible space required. Wastewater - this has to flow downhill, and you have 1/6th gravity, so you need to build this network deep, with pumpstations out on the moon (?). It doesn't take much space, but you need to consider it. Garbage - what isn't recycled, I presume you will need a place to take and dump it. Not everything can be recycled.

All of these are minor. Combining these with footpaths and underground utilities, I would allocate a small 5% (nothing like on Earth where there is the need for cars and such), of the overall community.

Inside your base, which you have requested be a complete community, is a total of: 12,000m2 Residential footprint 1,500m2 Healthcare footprint 2,500m2 Education footprint 500m2 Office/Multi-Use footprint 1,500m2 Community Services footprint 1,800m2 Infrastructure land-take

19,800m2 for your complete community, with families, facilities, walkways, infrastructure, etc., inside the base at a maximum of four story buildings. In a perfect circle, your base should have a radius of 80m. Add airlocks and facilities outside the base; and consider logistics (things arriving from Earth, power stations, water reclamation, sewerage services) that happen outside of your Lunar village.

EDIT: These are suggested, comfortable living arrangements. You can use your imagination to make this more efficient (tunnels between buildings instead of footpaths to reduce the empty space between buildings, higher densities, etc.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I doubt that kids raised on the moon are returning to Earth for higher education. The gravity is six times stronger. $\endgroup$ – Doug McClean Aug 6 '15 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @DougMcClean - it was a bit tounge-in-cheek, but you raise a very good point. This could be a dead-end in terms of 'returning generations to Earth' $\endgroup$ – Mikey Aug 6 '15 at 6:00
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The location can make a big difference. If the base is located at a water source, in deep craters/canyons at the south pole where the sun never shines, then you won't even have a 2-week day.

If the purpose of an industrial complex is for mining of materials for off-Earth construction, then big holes will be a biproduct. Stripmines can have structures built inside and then be covered over with tailings. Look at a modern copper mine "pit" for ideas.

If refining involves techniques such as melting the ore to separate out the metals, biproducts of slag and the same equipment could produce synthetic ignious rock. This would be the natural building materials.

In short, decide what the base is doing. Then build with bi-products and tools and techniques already on-hand.

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