The moon is largely dormant and inactive, though it used to have volcanic activity, long time ago time. According to a study presented at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on March 17, the empty tubes through which lava used to flow could provide a stable environment in which long term human settlements could be constructed.
Jay Melosh from Purdue University, a distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, said, the tubes may provide shelter from the meteorite impacts, extreme temperature and cosmic radiation which could make the surface hazardous for long-term human existence.
Melosh said in a statement, “There has been some discussion of whether lava tubes might exist on the moon. Some evidence, like the sinuous rilles observed on the surface, suggests that if lunar lava tubes exist they might be really big.”
“Sinuous rilles” are chillness visible on the lunar surface, thought to have been formed by ancient lava flows. Some of these are up to 6 miles wide and the Purdue team believes that the underground tunnels could match those on the surface.
Research which encouraged further study of possible lunar caves, found that the potential stability of the tubes would depend on the “width, roof thickness and the stress state of the cooled lava.” A variety of possible cave structures were modelled using those variables and the researchers were encouraged by the results.
Only one previous study, in 1969, has been done on the possibility of deep lunar caves. However, in recent years the interest in permanent lunar settlements, research bases and mining operations have grown considerably.
Way back in 2006, NASA had announced interest in a permanent base that may be scheduled completion in 2024. While that idea seems to have dissolved, it remains a possible future mission for the space agency. Then in 2012, former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich attempted a revival the plan.
The European Space Agency in November 2014, divulged plans for a lunar base. While, Russia also disclosed plans for a permanent lunar settlement in May last year.
Although, China is the latest nation to earnestly discuss the possibility of mining the moon, but is for certain not the only country looking into the possibility.
If existing tunnels and lunar caves and can provide structure as well as protection from radiation and temperature extremes on the moon it could considerably reduce the cost and potential time frame of these types of long term missions.