Home on the Moon – Welcome to Moonbase

We’ve got a pair of reviews this time around, two books about living and working on the Moon.

“Home on the Moon” by Marianne Dyson was published in 2003 by National Geographic and weighs in at 64 pages including the index. No errors noted.

[Full Disclosure: Ms. Dyson is a member of NSS, and we worked together on the Author’s Area for the 2007 ISDC. (sort of – I got the ball rolling on the idea of having conference participants and others autograph their space books for the public and did some basic groundwork locally, and then she picked up the ball and ran with it for a touchdown – we didn’t lose money on the idea, it actually contributed a small amount to the overall conference, and there were lots of happy people on both sides of the signing table, the real measure of success) She is also one of the managers of the NSS Reading Space website, to which I’ve given permission to source reviews from Out of the Cradle]

Ms. Dyson opens her book with a description of the event long ago that got her started in the space field – the launch of Apollo 8 and its magnificent contribution to human society. She then goes on to touch on the many things we’ve learned about how to go back to the Moon to stay, and issues a challenge:

“The [L]unar frontier calls to a new generation of explorers. Maybe you will be one of them.”

Chapter 2 discusses how we’ve come to believe the Moon was formed – the Big Whack hypothesis (I think it may have moved up to Theory by now). Some 4.5 to 5 billion years ago, a large planetoid now called Thea or Theia, maybe around the size of Mars, smacked our planet off-center in a devastating collision that irreparably changed both and birthed what we now know of as the Earth and Moon. The claim is made that the belt that coalesced into the Moon formed about 14,000 miles out, which I’m wondering might be within the Roche limit (where the gravity stress on the near and far side of a large object is sufficiently different to start tearing it apart). A summary of developments to date help give basic background on the different kinds of rock. It is noted that the Lunar lavas that filled the deepest craters to create the maria were of the consistency of motor oil, and some spewed out in ‘fire fountains’ to create the colored glasses found by the astronauts. Our first fun activity is a crater color experiment which is pretty standard in the Moon curricula. Pan or bowl of flour to represent the underlying anorthosite crust, a layer of pepper to represent the regolith and the long-term affects of the UV in sunlight, which darkens the surface over time. Then you drop a marble in from varying heights to see what happens.

The third chapter expands these ideas into an exploration of the resources of the Moon, and how the bare rocks can be transformed into the basic building blocks of a society. How is it transformed? With energy, and the different ways of supplying the energy are explored. Some of the things we need, like metals and oxygen, are investigated, as well as a possible oasis at the Lunar poles. Our next activity uses baking to explore the formation of breccias, and also why a sample may not necessarily be truly representative of the whole. Seems like a good way to explore the concept, and it’s edible to boot!

Chapter four is the roadmap, exploring transport to the Moon, some of the reasons the orbital mechanics are so tough, there’s a shout-out to EML-1, an explanation of the phases of the Moon (which apparently is a concept that MOST people just do not get), and maps of the near and far sides with the locations of U.S. visits, and finally the first goal – an outpost. This chapter’s activity works to reinforce some of the travel concepts, using cardboard cutouts and string to show the distances of the Moon at perigee and apogee and derive the average distance. I have a set of scale marbles of the Earth and Moon and often show the relative distance at outreach events (noting that Mars is, like, over in the next county).

Chapter five brings us to living in the Moon, an important distinction as living on the surface would be comparatively suicidal, from radiation if nothing else. Inside the Moon we’ll be relatively safe and snug, and the author explores why that will be so. She visits the idea of flying on the Moon, something I would dearly love to try, though the ‘Danger Room’ from “Growing Up Weightless” sounds like fun too. We look at driving on the Moon, noting how much fun it will be to explore the best routes between outposts, and maybe not quite so much fun living in a module. In a greenhouse module, something like space wheat could be grown in constant sunlight, short and fast. Later additions to the Lunar farms are noted as well. Those who are the pioneers are the ones who will write the stories by living them.

Our last activity is a Lunar Rover Exploration that constructs a cardboard rover (looks a lot like the LunaCorp rover, IIRC) and then goes through a mapping exercise using the rover. This one sounded quite interesting.

We round out the work with a glossary, basic almanac (facts & figs.), some websites, and a list of the men who have visited the Moon. The eldest of the Moonwalkers was born in 1923, the youngest in 1935. Uhm, yeah, we need to do something about that. A bibliography and index round it out.

I have a tough time gauging the bottom end of the age range for this book, but I imagine it becomes really useful right around the fifth grade. In part because that seems to be where space first shows up on the standardised tests. It is well illustrated with graphics, and the explanatory images are pretty straightforward. The one on page 38 threw me for a minute, as it has the equatorial plane (bisecting the Earth at the equator) horizontal on the page and the Moon at an 18-29 degree inclination to the equatorial plane, while I envision the Earth-Moon system in the context of the ecliptic plane (swept out by the line connecting the center of the Earth and Sun, and in which plane at least a part of the Moon has to be for its new phase for there to be a Solar eclipse, in whole or part) as the horizontal. The Moon is inclined 5.a bit degrees from the ecliptic plane. Since the equator is inclined about 23 degrees to the ecliptic, the inclination of the Moon varies from a bit over 18 degrees (23 – 5) to about 29 degrees (23.5 + 5.a bit).

Another bit of unnecessary info – an eclipse occurs when the Moon during its orbit is passing up through the plane of the ecliptic (the ascending node) or dropping down through the plane of the ecliptic (the descending node) for there to be an eclipse (it’s why it’s called the ecliptic plane), and the particular node has to line up with the Earth-Sun line. This doesn’t happen each month because the line connecting the two nodes is rotating around the center of the Earth (precessing, IIRC), so it might happen that the Moon passes through the plane of the ecliptic at the first quarter Moon (light on right, dark on left, found in the evening sky) or third quarter Moon (dark on right, light on left, found in morning sky). You can only have an eclipse when that happens at the line connecting the center of Sun and Earth and projecting beyond. Solar eclipse when the Moon is lined up between the Earth and Sun, Lunar eclipse when it’s on the farside of the Earth directly opposite from the Sun. Our astrological friends know these as conjunction and opposition. Don’t even get me started on syzygy.

On the flipside, the Earth Phase Calendar on page 41 is easily comprehensible and should be understood by most everyone. I’ve always enjoyed the Moon evolution graphics (in this case showing 3.8, 3.0 and 0.0 billion years ago). The activities are straightforward with a minimal of supplies needed. If your local school library doesn’t have this one, you need to be asking them why.

I’m sure y’all will think I’m biased, but I do believe this one deserves a Full Moon.


“Welcome to Moonbase” by Ben Bova was published by Ballantine Books in 1987, with illustrations by Pat Rawlings. It weighs in at 245 pages. No errors noted.

[Full Disclosure: I met Mr. Bova at the 2007 ISDC and he autographed my copy]

The easiest way to describe this book is as an Employee Manual for someone working on the Moon. By way of background, Mr. Bova has written a large number of novels, novellas, and short stories set in the Solar system, including several on the Moon. He incorporated some of his concepts to date at the time this book was written, such as the Russian base Lunagrad and a piano shipped up piecemeal in everyone’s cargo allowance, both found in “Millenium”. The base described in the book also serves as a location for later books, such as “Moonrise” and “Moon War”. That makes this title a bit difficult to classify, as its future setting makes it science fiction, whereas Mr. Bova’s background is strongly grounded in science fact and that is evidenced by the strong reliance on what we actually knew about the Moon in 1987.

We open with the welcome letter from Moonbase Inc., which prepares the new employee for some of the things they’ll face ahead during their minimum one year stint on the Moon. This is followed by the Introduction, which lays out a few more of the gruesome details like brutal temperature swings and things just don’t look right – the horizon is too close. But it also lays out some of the unique beauty to be found on the Moon, unlike anything on Earth. Lastly it touches on some of the timekeeping conventions associated with the different illumination patterns of the Moon.

Chapter One lays out the history of Moonbase, from the space stations of the intervening years to the first early attempts to return to the Moon beginning in 1999 with the Russians. The developments in launch vehicles are envisioned, with the workhorse being a 300 ton to LEO ‘big dumb booster’, with Orbital Transfer & Maneuvering Vehicles (OTV & OMV) providing the on-orbit capability to start going farther. The Yanks finally got back in 2001, landing in Oceanus Procellarum. Over the next years there were frequent sorties, excursions and traverses, driven mainly by the search for water. In 2011 the Russians establish their first base in Aristarchus (23.7N, 47.4W), while the U.S. concentrated their efforts in Mare Nubium. The Western European nations went to the highlands near Hipparchus (5.5S, 4.8E), and the Sino-Japanese base was established in northeast Mare Vaporum. The specialties of the early explorers are noted – geologists, seismologists, geochemists, physicists, astronomers, astrophysicians, doctors, psychologists, engineers. Eventually, in the early 2020s, the two primary spacefaring nations decided to establish permanent facilities on the Moon. Lunagrad in Aristarchus, Moonbase in Alphonsus (13.4S, 2.8W). Unlike the temporary shelters to date, Moon base would be an enormous undertaking, but also an undeniable declaration of an intent to stick around. Mining and manufacturing processes had slowly improved, and the first folks on the Moon were bootstrapping their way to a better way of living. The construction of the facility is described, an involved process as the vault is 600 meters long and 75 meters high, with most everyone dug in up to 35 meters underground. Cover the vault with a thick layer of regolith and you have yourself a pretty sweet pressurized space on the Moon. The last part of the chapter focuses on the importance of aquaculture and agriculture and their contributions to Moonbase. The legend of Moondust making plants grow miraculously is noted. Somewhere in the Lunar Library is a documentary that includes a snippet of film showing plants grown hydroponically side-by-side with plants grown hydroponically with regolith around the roots, and the differences were stark, with the Moondust plants rich and full compared with the meagre hydroponic plants. This notion is discounted by Lunalogist Bevan French in “The Moon Book”, where he notes in a footnote that “Early reports that some terrestrial plants showed increased growth rates when grown in Lunar soil have not been substantiated by later experiments. Almost everything that a plant needs for growth (water, organic compounds, potassium, etc.) has to be added to the soil to make the plants grow at all.” I think he mischaracterizes it a bit, where it is really a matter of regolith being beneficial to plant growth, not a source of plant growth. The reason given in “Welcome to Moonbase” is the abundance of trace elements throughout the regolith, which have been largely farmed out in traditional agricultural areas here on Earth. One of my entrepreneurial ideas is to ship bags of regolith to Earth to sell to rich Japanese gardeners a demikilo at a time.

Next we come to Moonbase Today. Here we get some quick background on the formation of Moonbase, Inc. The corporate structure is described, as is the external base layout. The modes of getting around are explored, from rovers to hoppers to lobbers, and the newer trolley system which avoids the need to lay out roadways. Navigation is also noted including the signal from EML1 station. Flights back to Earth are once a week, with transfers at EML1 and LEO.

Why at EML1 and LEO? Well, the ship that carries you from the Lunar surface has landing legs on it which aren’t really functional anywhere else but at the Moon. You may be headed to Earth, but some of the cargo may be headed to GEO, or be supplies for an asteroid mission. EML1 is at the top of the gravity wells of Earth and Moon, so it is the lowest delta-V launch point in cislunar space to anywhere else in the Solar system or near-Earth space. This makes it a perfect logisitics point. The ferry that takes you from EML1 to LEO has neither landing legs nor heat shield (much), and can drop to a space station in any inclination LEO orbit, though a polar orbit costs you a bit more because of the J2 effect of Earth’s pudgy oblateness around the middle. From LEO it’s headed right back up to EML1. Then you board a heat-shielded craft for the return from LEO to Earth. This means we’re not doing fuel-wasteful things like carting landing legs and heatshields all over the place where they’re not needed.

Next we have the Job Guidelines. First are the different job definitions in the Departments of Management, Health & Safety, and Technical Services, as well as the Program Offices: Mining & Manufacturing, Space Transportation, Tourism, and Exploration & Research. Pay & perquisites are noted, as well as benefits, which are claimed to be the best in the Solar system, including insurance and education. After 20 years of experiencing what corporate America has evolved into I have to snicker at this section, but it makes for a dreamy read. (My favorite HR line of all time – “We’re offering only slightly less good medical benefits this year for only slightly more than you used to pay”)

Quality of Life is of course terribly important, especially in as hostile an environment as the Moon. Temperature and atmosphere are carefully monitored and controlled to provide the ideal working environment. Imagine Albuquerque on a pleasant springtime day, but with no air pollution. [a hint of vanilla would be nice] Since it is such a small enclosed biosphere, a ‘Green’ policy was adopted early on, with employees given a bonus on seeds and plants brought up from Earth – each kilo only counts as half. Every space that can be planted is, and even though it is a burden on the water supply, it does have benefits:
-gray water (i.e. non-potable) can be used, and plants transpire clean water.
-the many advantages of greenery outweigh the water need
-plants recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen
Low gravity movement and the exercise consequences thereof are explored. I noted I want to fly on the Moon for exercise, and I think rollerblading would be a lot more fun, too. The perils of radiation are visited, with the special note that failure to immediately respond to radiation alerts invokes all kinds of contract indemnifications to protect the company and its insurers from your stupidity. You don’t mess with radiation. Period. Respect it mightily. Safely underground, your living quarters will vary in size from 9 1/4 to 16 1/4 square meters, with communal laundry facilities. In the spirit of safety, emergency procedures are described. It’s not all fear and loathing on the Moon, though. Recreation and communal entertainment are a vital part of any social environment, and Moonbase, Inc. supports both homegrown and imported talent. Dance is noted as a particularly pleasing spectacle. Sports are also supported. The communal pool offers diving boards at 10, 20, and 30 meters. Don’t worry about the water. It’s treated with abundant Lunar oxygen, which is a better bactericide than chlorine and doesn’t sting the eyes. Linear football is described in detail, with the caveat that the games are considered illegal so don’t do it. There are also surface activities as well, so there are ample things to do to occupy your free time. Those wishing to invoke their faith are invited to the Interfaith Chapel in the main dome.

Eventually, the Moon as a transportation node makes it the hub of the Solar system. The key to this is the resources we can liberate from the Moon. It’s a better place from which to launch supplies, the everdark craters at the poles offer cryogenics opportunities, more than 40% of the Moon’s rocks is oxygen, and abundant sunlight, especially at the high points of the Lunar poles, offers the power to wrest that oxygen free of its stony embrace. The first Lunox facility used a multi-step process whereby hydrogen is reacted with ilmenite and heat to create iron powder, titanium oxide, and water. Some water is saved, the rest is electrolyzed to hydrogen and oxygen. Recycle the hydrogen back to the start and sell the oxygen to anyone that needs to breathe or go somewhere in space. From there, trade can begin to expand. Powdered aluminum makes a good fuel for rockets, and happens to be much more abundant on the Moon than the much better hydrogen. So use what you got and you can start sending hoppers and lobbers around looking for goodies. One fuel noted that is notable is Silane, or SiH4. There’s lots of silicon on the Moon, but not much hydrogen. What makes it interesting is that there are a lot of Russian kick-stages cluttering up GEO that used Silane as a fuel for their rocket motors, and which might therefore be salvable in some way, shape, or form (though unlikely). The true beauty of the Moon will be the Mass Driver. Most of the technology was worked out back in the 80s, and the Moon has the benefit of being entirely vacuum, so you get nothing but pure acceleration. This makes the Moon a good source for materiel for further space exploration. Water is ever the key, so even comets are explored as a source of space resources. This provides all kinds of potential for career growth opportunities.

Moving up the value chain, we get to Moonrocks and Diamonds, or, Lunar Manufacturing. It’s noted that most of the things we mine for here on Earth are available right on the surface on the Moon. Things like aluminum, iron, titanium, calcium and magnesium. Low gravity makes it easier to lift stuff to orbit, but also introduces a whole new economy of materials usage in structures. High vacuum makes for all kinds of industrial uses, far too many to name here, and a little noted benefit of using Lunar vacuum for the manufacture of certain materials means that the expenditure of energy to create industrial vacuums here on Earth can be reduced. Vacuum is also a good place to ‘wash’ your clothes. Welding & metalworking, closed-loop manufacturing, raw materials provision, integrated manufacturing, Lunar construction materials, semiconductors, ceramics & plastics (cermets, cerplasts), and sandwiches & diamonds are all touched upon. Again, lots of career growth opportunities in these fields.

Some folks are on the Moon to answer deep questions. This is Exploration & Research. The researchers have a full plate, including ongoing studies in
-Origin of the Solar system,
-Sun/Earth/Moon interactions,
-Particle physics,
-Ultrapure Chemistry
-Engineering Sciences,
-Medical sciences,
-Life sciences,
-Agricultural sciences, and
-Lunar exploration.
The Moonbase even has its own research institute, Moonbase University, to help advance the state of the art. Each of the study areas is fleshed out factually and speculatively to display the broad range of opportunity for scientific study that exists on the Moon.

Not really the intent of Moonbase, but an unavoidable consequence, is Lunar Tourism. Once some infrastructure is in place, people will want to visit, and people with money tend to get what they want. First Footprints is a popular activity, but there’re also historic sites to visit, Moonwalks to take, and Lunar mountains to climb. Tourism is a growing field, offering lots of job opportunities.

The most venerable of the Moonbase residents are noted, the Luniks who have chosen to live and die on the Moon. It’s not encouraged, but it does happen. They’ve considered larger-scale immigration by terrestrial geriatrics, but the water supply really can’t handle it yet. Two more vaults are planned for construction as resources permit, so it will probably eventually happen.

Next we look to the future, and how Moonbase can contribute to the exploration of not only the Solar system, but also nearby stars. Where will Moonbase be in ten years? You can help make it happen!

Two appendices round out the work. The first is Basic Lunar Facts and is a sort of almanac, the second is a sample employment contract, which is well-dated by developments in contract law, and which weighs in at a puny five pages.

So clearly, this is a tough book to characterize. It’s a fictional setting, but not much of what’s in there is necessarily unrealistic. I’ve worked through enough Moon books to know that he has all of his facts right, and his speculation isn’t too far off the mark. This is further evidenced by the fact that the book is oft cited in bibliographies to this day, including Ms.Dyson’s book above. One work that Mr. Bova cites in his credits is Neil Ruzic’s “Where the Winds Sleep”, which is a much earlier (1970) attempt at exploring the same ideas. As a synthesis of general Moon knowledge to 1987, I’d have to say it’s almost on par with the synthesis of Moon rock knowledge to 1991 that is the reknowned “Lunar Sourcebook” (probably the single most valuable book in the Lunar Library, literally and figuratively), though clearly of a different nature. Despite being 20 years old it hasn’t really dated itself much even with all we’ve learned since. Many of the items noted in the Exploration and Research chapter are also found in the recent National Research Council report “The Scientific Context for the Exploration of the Moon”.

It does make a nice introduction for adults (and near adults) to the concept of living and working on the Moon. It’s not really sterile enough to be a real employee manual, but does cover most of the concepts found in one. It might be useable at the junior high level, but I’m thinking that high school is where it would start being useful. Its target market, though, seems to be the general adult populace. Ultimately I would have to call it Science Faction. An imaginative but fact-laden tale.

I’ll go with a Full Moon on this one also.

So there you have it – two great introductions to living and working on the Moon, and a great way to popularize the idea. If you want to find out what all of the space buffs are excited about for the return to the Moon, these two books are as good a place as any.

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