Urban planning on the moon

It was hard to ignore Mars at last month’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, even if you managed to avoid Elon Musk’s plenary talk. On hallways throughout the convention center, and even on sidewalks outside it, Lockheed Martin had placed signs depicting a Martian landscape. “Mars is closer than you think,” they read, a subtle reminder of that company’s Mars exploration concepts, the subject of another plenary session at the IAC.

The moon wasn’t forgotten, though. The day after Musk’s talk, a panel discussed both moon and Mars exploration. Mars, however, took a back seat to discussions of lunar missions, in particular the “Moon Village” promoted by Jan Woerner, the director general of the European Space Agency.

“We need to foster the future. We have to develop the future,” he said in his opening remarks on the panel. “I think the Moon Village is a part of this understanding to create the future.”

ESA director general Jan Woerne says people asking to be mayor of Moon VIllage don’t get his concept for sustainable lunar surface operations. Credit; Estonian Space Office

ESA director general Jan Woerne says people asking to be mayor of
Moon VIllage don’t get his concept for sustainable lunar surface operations. Credit; Estonian Space Office

Most of the other panelists expressed support in one form or another of the Moon Village concept. Oleg Ventskovsky of Ukraine’s Yuzhnoye State Design Office said that his company had already developed a “conceptual design” for an industrial and research base on the moon. “Essentially, it’s also a Moon Village, in a sense,” he said.

Perhaps the biggest proponent for the Moon Village concept other than Woerner himself is George Nield, the associate administrator for commercial space transportation at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. He sees a lunar base of some kind as an opportunity for commercial interests to supply transportation or other services.

At the panel, he proposed something called the Lunar Market and Swap Shop. It would start as a virtual entity — a lunar Craigslist of sorts, which he said the FAA would be willing to host — where companies and organizations could buy and sell various services needed for a lunar base. It could, he added, eventually evolve into a physical marketplace at that base.

Yet the Moon Village hasn’t advanced much in the last year, despite the backing of people like Nield and Woerner. That’s in large part because, despite all of the discussion, Moon Village is not a program or a proposal so much as a concept or even just a state of mind, without the formal endorsement of ESA or other agencies.

That emerged when an audience member asked the panel what currency Moon Village will use and what religion residents will practice. “This is something of a misunderstanding,” Woerner said, adding he gets mail from people asking how they can become the mayor of the Moon Village. It’s not, he emphasized, meant to be a literal village, with shops, restaurants and the like.

“The Moon Village, again I have to repeat, is a concept for sustainable surface operations,” Woerner said. He uses the term “village,” he added, because his concept for a lunar base is meant to be like when people with diverse interests and activities come together to form a community. “This is exactly my idea of a Moon Village.”

But villages also have organization, structure and planning, which the Moon Village currently appears to lack.

Until one or more space agencies, perhaps working in concert with companies, start to put some effort and money into more detailed planning, the Moon Village will remain an unrealized vision — and Woerner will likely continue to get mail from people asking to be mayor.