ESA Executive Lobbies for Lunar Colony on the Moon’s Dark Side

June 8, 2015 – Why would anyone want to put a human habitation on the “dark side” of the Moon? Well for one thing it really isn’t dark. It’s we who were in the dark about the far side of the Moon until the Soviet Union sent us the first pictures of what our closest neighbour’s other face looked like back in 1959.

The Moon is tidally locked to the Earth. So we never could see its other side until we sent robotic spacecraft to circumnavigate our satellite. Today we know that its topography is far more rugged than the face of the Moon we see. And it is the destination of choice for Johann-Dietrich Worner, the new head of the European Space Agency (ESA). He believes this would be the logical next step in our outward urge to become a spacefaring species.


Not-so-darkside of the Moon


In past postings I have advocated that before we consider going to Mars we need to establish outposts in Deep Space that would serve as way stations. NASA talks about cis-lunar human presence in space and not necessarily a lunar colony. Which is the right strategy?

If we are going back to the Moon it should be with specific goals that make it a better choice than placing a self-sustaining human habitation at a Lagrange Point within lunar vicinity. For one thing if we go to the surface of the Moon to use it as a way station then we have to deal with overcoming the Moon’s gravity well each time we take off for elsewhere. At a Lagrange Point that would not be the case saving us the need to produce the fuel for launching from the lunar surface. But Worner argues that a human colony on the far side of the Moon would have incredible scientific impact particularly in the fields of astronomy and cosmology. A series of space telescopes on the Moon’s far side would give us an unprecedented view of the Cosmos. Radio telescopes would be free of Earth chatter.


Lunar base


For Worner who described the International Space Station’s (ISS) mission as one that will soon end, there has to be a logical next destination. He chooses the Moon, not Mars which he describes as a “nice destination.”

Charles Bolden, head of NASA, sees the Moon as an “interesting destination.” But his notion is to establish infrastructure in lunar orbit that points us to our next big destination, Mars. He believes that going down to the lunar surface can be handled by entrepreneurs and international joint private-public ventures and partnerships. He doesn’t see NASA taking a leadership role in a lunar colony although he wouldn’t mind having the agency participate.

And speaking of partnerships, why is China not a participant on ISS while Russia remains involved despite its clandestine war in Eastern Ukraine?  The ISS has invited astronauts from the European Union, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Korea, South Africa and many other nations but not China. Instead China has its own plans to build a permanent space station, visit the Moon and eventually establish a permanent human colony there. What a duplication of effort.

For NASA how is China any more a potential threat as a space partner than Russia? Aren’t both Russia and China equal rivals and yet one, despite its recent geopolitical maneuvering remains joined at the hip with the United States on the ISS.

What could China bring to international cooperation in space? A program that has already shown that the Chinese have sufficient knowledge and expertise to contribute to space exploration and human space missions in a big way. After all when you look at the bigger picture, isn’t China the largest trading partner of the United States? It’s not Russia so wouldn’t you think a rethink is in order?


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.