This is the story seed for every space opera novel ever written, from George Lucas' Star Wars to the milieu of Iain Banks' Culture novels. (Guess what I'm reading right now.) How many of these exoplanets are actually habitable? How many are orbited by habitable moons?
The other thing I needed to research for my book is what a realistic lunar dome would actually look like and be made out of.
You know that Jetson’s style glass dome, straight out of the sci-fi imagination of 1950s America? That’s where I started when I first began to imagine what a lunar dome might look like, and how it all might work.
But technology has improve immensely since the 1950s, and glass domes are not releastic on a moon with no atmosphere and a danger of meteorites, either to live in or maintain. So I went in search of more modern lunar dome concepts.
The newest and most realistic concept I found was on Gizmodo. They propose running moon stuff (i.e. the soil/crust of the moon) through a 3d printer to turn it into a cement-like material. They’d use that stuff (arranged in a cellular structure), plus interior inflatables to hold atmosphere, to build the domes.
According to ESA’s human spaceflight team’s Scott Hovland: “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.”
This is great, because it means that we don’t need to carry building supplies up there. We mostly use what the moon provides.
Additional ideas and questions came from Quora user Robert Walker, who wrote more about the specifics and logistics of establishing such a base on the Moon or Mars. He suggests putting the colony in a large caldera or smaller crater, using the natural structure for stability, and raising a dome above it. He wrote an even longer piece here. I haven’t read all of it yet, but it’s very interesting and asks all sorts of questions I never even thought about.
That’s one of the joys of doing this kind of research—I’m introduced to so many new ideas.
And then there’s this idea of setting up a colony on the moon, but beneath the moon’s surface inside of a lava cave, which scientists have posited could be quite large on the moon. So-called “lava caves” were apparently made during the cooling period while the moon’s surface was forming after the impact with Earth that made it.
Unlike Earth, the Moon lacks a thick atmosphere and magnetic field to protect it against cosmic radiation. The absence of an atmospheric buffer also means that the Moon’s surface receives more frequent meteorite impacts and more extremes of temperature.
For example, the Moon’s surface temperature can vary by several hundred degrees C during the course of a lunar day.
But housing bases underground, inside lava tubes, could offer shielding against these risks.
The lunar tunnels are expected to be larger than those already discovered on our planet, because of the Moon’s lower gravity. No-one has yet definitively discovered an example on the Moon, but spacecraft have revealed cave entrances called skylights that may open into lava tubes.
Skylights! Holy crap, that’s amazing. There are so many great story seeds in these articles. Writers who have a hard time coming up with story ideas, take heed.
Clearly, the Jetson-style 1950s vision of the future didn’t hold up over time, especially not glass domes, and definitely not on the moon where there’s no atmosphere.
Those finnicky laws of nature, they’re just so rigid.
I’m going to try for something more modern and realistic for the lunar base in Translocator 2. You can let me know, when the book is done, if I’ve achieved it. Again, I don’t know how “realistic” a book about translocators and ancient aliens will come across, but I always try to make sure the science-inspired parts to hold up under scrutiny—to the best of my ability. This kind of research helps.