China plans to house astronauts in volcanic caves on the Moon after 2035

Chinese engineers are considering underground volcanic caves on the Moon as a possible site for long-term habitation.

Image via Pixabay.

The Moon’s crust is criss-crossed with the fingerprints of ancient volcanic activity in the form of lava tubes. These structures are basically volcanic caves, the structure of which is no different from modern subway tunnels here on Earth. They are hollow passages, created when the outer layer of lava flows came into contact with the cold exterior, hardening into rock while the material in the middle remained molten and flowed out.

These ancient tunnels could provide long-term accommodation for Chinese astronauts due to settle on the Moon after 2035, according to the South China Morning Post.

live underground

Each tube can span several kilometers and reach up to tens of meters in width, providing ample space. Their thick rocky shells also make them ideal insulators from the outside world, providing protection from extreme surface temperature variations and space radiation.

Such tubes have been found all over the Moon. And now China sees them as a possible candidate for establishing moon bases, especially away from its south pole – an area that has been identified as harboring significant water deposits.

“The moon’s south pole could become very crowded, and extracting water ice remains technically challenging, so we wanted to explore other possibilities,” said Pan Wente, assistant professor at the Design Institute. and Architectural Research of Harbin Institute of Technology, to a national space. scientific assembly in central China last month.

Handout image of the presentation showing the Laurel Tree design.

During the assembly, Pan unveiled the current plans for such a tunnel-based moon base. Called “Laurel Tree”, it is still in the early stages of design. So far, however, the base will come with a pyramid-shaped structure above the ground to act as an access point, with a main cabin, a work cabin and several living quarters, all placed under earth.

The main cabin will serve as the base’s primary command and control center using a suite of high-tech instruments. It will also serve as a link between the surface entry point and the living and working modules. The latter two will be fully pressurized and covered with inflatable arches. The designers chose this solution because it would allow very quick and easy installation of the modules; Since the Moon does not have any type of atmosphere, inflating these modules will be extremely easy and would also allow astronauts to ditch their oxygen tanks inside the base.

The main cabin will be built on Earth and launched on the Moon. All other modules will be built using on-site fabrication or assembled from modular components brought from Earth.

Going underground will help protect the crew from the harsh lunar environment, but not completely. For example, surface temperatures on the moon vary between 126 degrees Celsius (259 degrees Fahrenheit) and -173 degrees Celsius (-280 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the day. Underground, the variation is more modest, ranging roughly between -43 and 17 degrees Celsius, according to Pan.

However, this means that the modular base will still need good insulation properties to prevent astronauts from experiencing extremely cold nights. The issue of space radiation is also a concern: although the rock walls of the tunnels absorb some of the radiation, we still need to collect more data to know exactly how much – and whether additional shielding is needed to keep people safe inside. inside such a base.

The Laurel Tree design is the third project that the team from the Institute of Architectural Design and Research at Harbin Institute of Technology has developed for lunar missions, the South China Morning Post Explain. It is part of China’s efforts for the national development of critical technologies for space exploration and colonization. Such projects are intended to help the country bridge part of the distance between China and countries with much more experience in space applications, including the United States.

The two traditional big players in space exploration – the United States and Russia – have long-term plans for human habitation on the Moon. Efforts such as the development of the Laurel Tree base aim to get China back on track with these countries for the space race.

In March last year, the Russian and Chinese space agencies announced their intention to build a joint research station on the Moon by 2035. Initially, this base will be unmanned and will house automated research facilities , with the possibility for humans to take up residence there. later.

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