Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Russians see potential for moonbase in lunar lava caves

First such lunar colonies could be built by 2030, scientist estimates

The United States may have been there first, but the first lunar colonists may be speaking Russian, thanks to an ambitious proposal to establish an underground colony that was unveiled this week.

According to Reuters, Russian scientists announced that they are hoping to set up the first colony on the moon by 2030, making use of a vast underground network of lava tubes through a possible entrance discovered in 2008 by Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft.

Lunar researchers have long suspected the moon's volcanic past created an underground network of lava tubes as its legacy, and images from the Japan's Kaguya spacecraft showed a possible way down — a mysterious, meters-deep hole breaching the surface. The discovery of volcanic tunnels on the moon could provide a natural shelter for the first lunar colony, cosmonauts and scientists, according to Sergei Krikalyov, who heads Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow. Krikalyov made the announcement on Tuesday during a forum on the future of manned spaceflight.

"KAGUYA (SELENE)" was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H-IIA Launch Vehicle at 10:31:01 a.m. on September 14, 2007 (JST) from Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC). The major objectives of the "KAGUYA" mission were to obtain scientific data of the lunar origin and evolution and to develop the technology for the future lunar exploration. "KAGUYA" consisted of a main orbiting satellite at about 62 miles (100km) altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit.

The orbiters carried instruments for scientific investigation of the Moon, on the Moon, and from the Moon. KAGUYA was descended to the 31 mile (50km) altitude on February 1, 2009 and then was descended again to 10-30km in altitude (Perilune) from April 16, 2009; finally, KAGUYA was impacted to the south-east of near side of the Moon on June 10, 2009.

"This new discovery that the moon may be a rather porous body could significantly alter our approach to founding lunar bases," veteran spaceman Sergei Krikalyov, who heads Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow, said at a forum on the future of manned spaceflight.

"If it turns out that the moon has a number of caves that can provide some protection from radiation and meteor showers, it could be an even more interesting destination than previously thought," he said.

A slide-show image showing bunker-like inflatable tents dotting the lunar landscape helped forum participants imagine the lunar bases. "There wouldn't be any need to dig the lunar soil and build walls and ceilings," said Krikalyov.

Click here to read full Reuters article

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