Village on the moon

RETH team
Faculty and students affiliated with RETH, or Resilient Extra-Terrestrial Habitats (RETH) program. The program is an interdisciplinary program including Civil Engineering, and Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences: In order: Jay Melosh, Antonio Bobet, Shirley Dyke and Julio Ramirez. (Purdue University/ Mark Simons)

12/12/2017 |

When our ancient ancestors migrated to a new place, their first order of business was protection — from club-wielding enemies, saber-toothed prey, and heat, cold, wind, rain and snow. Until they could build something permanent, these early humans often took advantage of natural features for shelter.

Antonio Bobet, professor of civil engineering, believes that same preservationist mindset could apply to humanity’s next possible migratory leap to the moon, where lava tubes large enough to house entire cities might still exist.

“We need to start with shelter so that safety is ensured,” says Bobet, part of the team that received the first New Horizons grant from the Purdue Provost’s office in 2016. “And we build from there.”

Bobet’s co-investigators for the Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering project include Shirley Dyke, professor of mechanical and civil engineering; Julio Ramirez, professor of civil engineering; and Jay Melosh, distinguished professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences. Together, the engineers are building upon Melosh’s discovery in 2015 that giant lava tubes — tunnels formed by lava during the moon’s active volcanic phase — may still be structurally stable.

Even if these lava tubes could provide initial shelter to space pioneers, would permanent underground habitats be the best way to mitigate risks such as radiation, the moon’s wild temperature fluctuations and meteorites constantly bombarding the surface? And what about people’s natural desires to see beyond the confines of their homes? ”Humans don’t like to live underground. That’s why subways have windows,” Bobet says. “We need first to ensure the safety of any human habitat, be it above or below the surface, but we also need expertise outside science and engineering to include the human component.”

Writer: Angie Roberts
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