Villages on the moon that will house teams of astronauts could be built in the decade to come, the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed in December at the International Symposium on Moon 2020-2030 in the Netherlands.
The reality of lunar villages is just within reach with the help of 3D printing technology, a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digitally-made file. If successful, astronauts could use the lunar base as a springboard for future Mars explorations.
The ESA space-exploration strategy sets the Moon as a priority destination for humans on the way to Mars," Kathy Laurini, NASA's co-chair for the Exploration Roadmap Working Group for the Global Exploration Roadmap, told Space.com. "The timing is right to get started on the capabilities which allow Europe to meet its exploration objectives... as humans begin to explore the Solar System."
The plan outlined by ESA is to send a series of lunar missions by early 2020s, and they will involve a combined effort between human astronauts and robotic systems. They will send out the robots first to facilitate the construction of various structures with the aid of 3D printers and the moon's own soil called regolith. A few years later, the first astronauts will be inhabiting these bases.
This will require further research about local materials found on the moon's surface.
"We keep talking about lunar resources, but we still need to demonstrate they can be used ... [that] they are, in fact, reserves," engineer Clive Neal from the University of Notre Dame clarified to Space.com. "A successful program would then clearly demonstrate that lunar resources can enable solar system exploration."
ESA's Director General Johann-Dietrich Woerner cleared it out with BBC, though, that the village he envisions is not merely a group of houses, churches or town halls. Instead, the goal is to build installation that has "multiple uses and multiple users," which he also said to journalists in Paris last year, a report confirmed.