Why we should build Astronaut Cities in lunar and Mars lava tubes

Lava tubes on the moon and Mars could be large enough to fit groups of astronauts in the city center, who live on these other worlds, finds a new study.

Lava tubes are an underground tunnel that occurs due to the flow of molten rock during a volcanic explosion. We also get lava tubes on Earth, but those on the Moon and Mars are probably much larger – allowing enormous communities of people to work, live and explore on other worlds.

A typical tube on Earth will be about 30 feet to 100 feet (10 to 30 meters) in diameter. But one on Mars could be the height of the Empire State Building, with a diameter 10 times that of Earth. If that sounds great, consider the moon, where its even lower gravity produces a tube up to 1,000 times larger than Earth – much higher than the massive Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai.

It’s an exciting find, because these small, cramped spaces on Earth would instead open up into vast caves of space on other worlds. Rather than suggesting future astronauts working shoulder to shoulder all the time, these space explorers could easily walk through other worldly boulevards, all protected from deadly radiation (and in the case of Mars, heavy dust storms).

“This one [lava tubes] represent ideal gates or windows for underground exploration, ”said student author Francesco Sauro in a statement. While we have known for some time about these lava tubes, the new study shows just how large they are – capable of covering at least one case the same space as the city center of Padua, Italy, Sauro said.

Sauro is well versed in cave exploration, as he heads the European Space Agency’s Cooperative Adventure for Evaluating and Exercising Human Behavior and Performance Skills (CAVES) program, which regularly sends astronauts underground in caves to practice for space missions. with an isolated, extreme environment. He is also a game scientist at the University of Bologna.

Japanese spacecraft Kaguya (SELENE) was the first to spot these tubes on the moon, according to NASA. Many follow-up studies were conducted with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which takes high definition images of the moon’s surface from pole to pole. The orbiter has detected dozens of intriguing holes and NASA is considering ways in which future missions could deepen inside. It may be too steep for a rover, so the agency suggests they use swarms of planes or climbing cars for reconnaissance.

The researchers used data from lunar and Mars images and compared that with the literature available on Earth of spell exploration and aerial surveys of our own lava tubes. The team also created digital terrain models to get an idea of ​​what these lava tubes would look like on Mars and the moon, and saw great potential for future exploration.

“The most important thing is that, despite the impressive dimensions of the lunar tubes, they are well within the threshold stability threshold,” said Matteo Massironi, a planetary geologist at the University of Padua who co-authored the study. . The models indicate, he adds, that most of the lava tubes remain intact and very stable, which means that there is not much chance of an underground collapse. (Besides that, we can assume that future lunar engineers will be happy to provide some support structure for extra security.)

So how soon can we climb into one of these tubes to control things? NASA plans to land people on the moon in 2024, accompanied by a suite of private cars under the Commercial Lunar Services Program (CLPS). Initially, these landers and robbers will be focused on supporting human missions, but there is the possibility of adding scientific loadloads for exploring the lava tubes.

The first missions to Mars would not take place until the mid-2030s, assuming, of course, that funding and will remain long enough to enable an international coalition. We can only send spacecraft every two years, so a feasibility study for lava tube life would probably be very far in the future, given the complication of getting even a car in the tube in the first place.

But perhaps we can be encouraged that the newly launched NASA Perseverance rover mission could carry a car that would take the first tentative steps to make morning tube reconnaissance on Mars. The Ingenuity helicopter was to be the first flying car on the Red Planet, and sometimes flew in 202. If the test mission goes according to plan, Ingenuity’s design could be used for many other future Martian flying cars, perhaps including some that could explore the lunar tubes up close.

A study based on the study was published in Earth-Science Reviews.