Saturday, October 17, 2015

We invade the Moon .. but when?

Proposed lunar habitat

According to the BBC,
"The European and Russian space agencies are to send a lander to an unexplored area at the Moon's south pole. It will be one of a series of missions that prepares for the return of humans to the surface and a possible permanent settlement. The spacecraft will assess whether there is water, and raw materials to make fuel and oxygen.

BBC News has obtained exclusive details of the mission, called Luna 27, which is set for launch in five years' time. The mission is one of a series led by the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, to go back to the Moon."
The only practicable way to construct a lunar habitat, like the one pictured, would be by using autonomous robots. They couldn't be teleoperated from Earth due to communication delay.

You may have noticed that nowhere on Earth right now are there autonomous robots capable of building a house - even under the benign conditions on our planet. People aided by dumb machinery build houses.

It's often said that the future is already here, just unevenly distributed. Absolutely cutting-edge stuff is very expensive and is solely used by elites (the rich, or priority government programmes). Later, technologies get better, prices come down via economies of scale .. and the future arrives for the masses.

Example: the first mobile phones, clunky things, date back to c. 1975. The mass take-up of mobile phones began in the mid-1990s, twenty years later. This period, twenty years from earliest adopters to mass deployment, seems about right for sophisticated, high-technology systems engineering.

As I noted above, there are no autonomous construction robots at all right now: we're probably ten years from systems which could autonomously build a habitat on Earth and perhaps thirty years from systems which are cost-effective for large scale use.

For a special-project moon base (large budget, customised equipment) I would guess twenty years out. For routine off-planet construction opening the way to significant lunar/martian cities it would have to be at least forty years.

So here's my summary timeline:
2025:  first proof-of-concept complete-house-building robots (autonomous)
2035:  first special-purpose lunar/martian habitat-building robots (autonomous)
2045:  houses routinely built by autonomous robots across the world
2055:  large scale town/city construction on the Moon and Mars by autonomous robots.
These are the earliest dates.


On a personal note, which of these events could I expect to see?

I checked an online life-expectancy calculator with this result:

My life expectancy at current age 64 (in 2015) = +25 years

This puts my expected date of death 25 years in the future, to 2040.

I might see the habitat pictured above before I go, with zen-like equanimity, to that good night.

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