People are very messy creatures. For example, within every 27 days we shed our skin and it’s replaced with a new layer. If you’ve ever sneezed then you know of more stuff coming from our bodies. And of course there’s digestive waste. About that, the single most common question to astronauts is about going to the toilet in space. None of these are issues on Earth as they are part of the natural cycle and the messes get naturally recycled.
Now imagine being in a lunar colony. There is no natural environment. Everything about you has come from Earth at an exorbitant cost. The costly food you eat and the costly water you drink every few hours will get processed in your stomach and the waste excreted out. On the ISS, the waste is simply discarded and burnt during re-entry of the garbage container. On the Moon, that option is not available. So either the lunar colony will grow a mound of biological waste or it will have a cycle of its own to turn the waste into something useful.
Yet on Earth there’s a similar problem. Mainly, there’s so many people that the natural cycle can’t deal with all the waste. An indication of this is the Swachh Bharat Mission in India that’s aiming to stop open defecation. Perhaps if you live in a city and gone on a wilderness hike then you’ve had a similar challenge? What to do to keep nature natural while still responding to one of life’s necessities?
Now joining these two issues; space toilets and open defecation may seem unlikely. But there is a similar need. That is, humans need to clean up their messes rather than just walk away. Can you think of something that will address both? Tell us! Or talk with ESAs Space for Sanitation program. Or the USAs Universal Waste Management System (UWMS). And with it we can reduce the messes that we leave behind.
People need to eat. It’s just simply part of being within the ecosystem on Earth. When we voyage off Earth, as in an airplane ride or a visit to the International Space Station, then we bring our foods with us. And any waste gets carried along to re-enter into the Earth’s system when we land.
Not so if we want to put a colony on the Moon. On the Moon there’s no ecosystem. Nor is there any medium like flowing water or blowing atmosphere with which to transfer chemicals and energy from one life form to another. On the Moon or any other non-Earth location, people must bring along their own, artificial system.
And if we decide that we don’t like the system on Earth then we can even use the same concept here. Just as Seven-Eleven Japan has decided to do. Which may be a boon to space enthusiasts. But what does it say about the Earth ecosystem?
Energy is the most critical of commodities whether on Earth or on the Moon. Humans eat to obtain energy to power their bodies. Humans release stores of energy to power their technology. One of the most amazing, controlled releases of energy occurs whenever we launch platforms into space.
Living on the Moon will require great amounts of energy. In comparison, consider the International Space Stations. Its solar arrays provide about 100kW of power. That ‘s a lot. While solar arrays will certainly provide some power on the Moon, they need to always be aimed at the Sun. And be dust free. This may not always be practicable. We have other, higher density power sources. For example, NASA is developing KRUSTY. This little fission reactor could provide 10kW of baseline power for up to 10 years. One or more KRUSTY reactors could provide local power for locations on the Moon or even remote locations on the Earth. These sources of controlled energy could make the lives of humans on the Moon very resourceful.
For those interested in a little history, check out the TOPAZ reactor for a different, Soviet design.
In any case, remember the human need for energy. It is critical to our bodies and our technology. On the Moon we will be relying upon machines for recirculating air, growing plants, and cleaning water. And the machines like us, won’t function without energy. So we have to have an assured source of controlled energy. Before we set foot back upon the Moon.
Most people pay little heed to breathing. We draw air in and we exhale air out on a regular basis. We understand that our bodies use some of the oxygen that comes in and that some carbon dioxide goes out. While this vague notion is sufficient for life on Earth, it’s far too vague for establishing life on another world. Such as the Moon.
Recently Airbus completed their Advanced Closed Loop System (ACLS) that Japan will later rocket up to the International Space Station (ISS). The ACLS converts ‘waste’ carbon dioxide from breathing and ‘waste’ hydrogen into breathable oxygen and drinkable water. A main benefit of this system is to reduce the demand for water on the ISS. Thus making life on-board much more self-sufficient. And less reliant upon the people of Earth. Who continue to provide over 400 litres of water each year to the ISS.
For any infrastructure development, like for a lunar colony, both the construction cost and the carrying cost must be factored. Consider that in 2018 the ISS flight manifest lists 18 launches. As the ISS is mostly complete then these flights represent the carrying costs. Estimate that each launch cost is $100M. Over $1.8B annually! Thus if new technology can reduce the number of launches by one then it represents a reduction in the annual carrying cost of at least $100M. Which partly explains why people aren’t living on the Moon. Yet. And, why funding is the most critical parameter.