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Review: Building Habitats on the Moon

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Building Habitats on the Moon: Engineering Approaches to Lunar Settlements
by Haym Benaroya
Springer, 2018
paperback, 314 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-3-319-68242-6

Once again, we’re going back to the Moon. The Trump administration’s Space Policy Directive One, signed in December, directs NASA to return humans to the Moon, although not on any specific timeframe. Speaking at a Capitol Hill breakfast last week, Robert Lightfoot, the agency’s acting administrator, said that the plan the agency developed, and effectively codified in its fiscal year 2019 budget request released earlier this month, would support landings of humans on the Moon—both of NASA astronauts and those of international partners—in the “latter part” of the 2020s.

If humans do indeed return to the moon in about a decade, presumably they will do so for more than just the brief sorties of the Apollo era. That will require the development of habitats for those crews to live in, be it stays of a few weeks or several months. Rutgers University professor Haym Benaroya discusses the issues—primarily, but not exclusively, technical—involved with lunar facilities in Building Habitats on the Moon.

Benaroya also includes in the book several interviews with engineers, architects, and other space exploration experts. Some of these interviews provide good insights into habitat development.

Benaroya starts the book with an overview of why humans should go to the Moon, a slightly odd approach given that, if you’re reading a book about building habitats on the Moon, you’re likely already convinced of the utility of human missions there. From there, he examines the issues associated with the lunar environment—temperature, radiation, and the qualities of the regolith—that affect developments there. Later chapters discuss the kinds of habitats that can be built, including both rigid and inflatable structures, and more detailed engineering issues associated with their design.

Much of the book follows a standard approach for an engineering text; some of the book’s final chapters, in fact, are fairly technical, their pages filled with equations. However, Benaroya takes an unusual approach with some other aspects of the book. Many chapters, for example, end with a bulleted list of quotes. They are mostly about lunar exploration, including from transcripts from the Apollo missions, but their relevance to each chapter’s subject matter isn’t always clear.

Benaroya also includes in the book several interviews with engineers, architects, and other space exploration experts. Some of these interviews provide good insights into habitat development. For example, David Cadogan, director of engineering and product development at ILC Dover, describes how his company looked at how to keep lunar regolith from contaminating and damaging spacesuits, as they did on the Apollo missions. His company’s approach, taken from experience working with the military in a “chem-bio warfare environment,” was to cover the spacesuit with an outer layer made of Tyvek that would protect the suit, which could then be disposed before entering the airlock at the end of the EVA. This “pretty simple idea,” he said, was set aside in favor of more complex efforts to make the suits themselves more durable.

Other interviews, though, tended to be rambling, and even a little contentious. Space architect Marc Cohen, in one response to a question, criticizes Benaroya for using the passive voice and “bureaucratese” in a question. “It is unbecoming as a scholar and a gentleman,” he says. While (perhaps unintentionally) entertaining, it illustrates that these interviews should have been edited down to limit themselves to the key issues regarding building lunar habitats.

Those idiosyncrasies aside, Building Habitats on the Moon does offer a good overview of the issues associated with building lunar habitats. That includes an examination of studies and concepts developed all the way to the beginning of the Space Age for lunar bases. They serve as a reminder that studies of lunar bases are nothing new—and, given that none of those lunar base concepts became reality, also offer a cautionary note about the latest plans to return humans to the Moon.