As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon in 2024, scientists are figuring out ways in which humans can live on the Moon. The European Space Agency (ESA) has prospered exploring a network of volcanic caves likely hiding under the lunar surface. Astronomers believe these tunnels are lurking under the lunar maria – dark and basaltic plains formed by ancient eruptions. Very little is known about the subterranean secrets of the Moon but the lava tubes are believed to have spewed molten rock onto the surface.
ESA said: “While the surface of the Moon has been well-documented with cameras onboard several satellite missions, relatively little is know about the presence and nature of subsurface cavities.
“In volcanic areas of the lunar maria, planetary geologists have identified pits that could be where lava once flowed under the lunar surface.”
Earlier this year in May, NASA scientist Dr Daniel Moriarty explored the concept during an online AMA or “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit.
The scientist argued locating these tunnels would not happen during NASA’s 2024 Artemis mission but future manned missions could explore them.
ESA’s Francesco Sauro is, however, positive lunar tubes could offer a viable method of settling the Moon.
The lunar expert said: “Exploring and mapping these tubes could provide new information about the Moon’s geology, but they could also be an interesting option as long-term shelter for future human visitors to the Moon.
“They would shield astronauts from cosmic radiation and micrometeorites and possibly access to icy water and other resources trapped underground.”
ESA is now on the hunt for ideas that will transform the Moon as we know it into a habitable place.
The space agency stressed the need to explore and navigate these lava tubes while adding all proposed concepts need to incorporate lines of communication to the outside world.
Ensuring a direct line of contact with the lunar surface and the Earth would help transmit relevant scientific data.
ESA’s Loredana Bessone, who is leading the hunt for ideas, said: “Mission concepts may be based on a single rover or a distributed system of satellite, robotic or rover systems that operate together.
“Either way, we are looking for systems that would land on the lunar surface, identify and access a cave and contribute the scientific exploration of the Moon.”
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NASA Artemis timeline
2019 – NASA aims to launch scientific tools and instruments to the surface of the Moon with commercial partners.
2020 – The launch of NASA’s first uncrewed Artemis 1 mission to the Moon.
2022 – Artemis 2 will launch to the Moon using the SLS rocket system.
2022 – The first elements of the Lunar Gateway will blast off into space.
2023 – A science and exploration rover will make its way to the Moon.
2024 – A Human Landing System for the Lunar Gateway will be launched and assemble in space.
2024 – Artemis 3 will fly the fist human crew since Apollo 17 to the Lunar Gateway, followed by a lunar descent.
2025 – Artemis 4 will launch to the Moon for experiments.
2026 – The launch of Artemis 5.
2027 – The launch of Artemis 6.
2028 – The launch of Artemis 7.
2028 – NASA aims to solidify a “sustainable human presence on the Moon”.