- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Scientists tasked with carrying out President Bush’s mandate to “gain a foothold on the moon” think they have identified an ideal location for a permanent lunar base camp.

Such a base would enable NASA to take advantage of the moon’s low gravity and resources to launch missions to the rest of the solar system in line with the president’s request that the space agency begin to “prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.”

Scientists and engineers have put forward many designs, ranging from igloos to inflatable structures, buried structures and domes.

Hotels, laboratories, observatories and sports arenas, as well as mining and manufacturing plants, also have been suggested.

In the journal Nature, scientists announce today the best place to build a lunar foothold after analyzing 53 images of the lunar north pole.

The scientists, working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, have found areas on the northern rim of Peary crater — one of three large craters in the region — that are likely to bask in permanent sunlight.

Temperatures in these spots are estimated to be a relatively moderate minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit.

This contrasts with temperatures in lunar equatorial regions, which fluctuate from 212 degrees to minus 292 degrees, putting much greater strains on machinery.

In addition to abundant solar energy, the area has permanently shadowed regions at the bottom of nearby craters, where convenient deposits of water ice might be found. The deposits could be used to provide lunar colonists with water, oxygen and rocket fuel.

Mr. Bush has proposed sending robotic probes to the lunar surface by 2008, with a human mission as early as 2015, “with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods of time.”

The president said lunar exploration could lead to new technologies or the harvesting of raw materials that might be turned into rocket fuel or breathable air.

“With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond,” Mr. Bush said.

Early designs for bases included one by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, published in 1954.

Igloo-shaped habitats were covered with dust for insulation, and an inflatable radio mast was used for maintaining contact with astronauts. Power was supplied by a nuclear reactor.

Colonists used hydroponic techniques, and monorails connected their habitats and mining facilities. Mr. Clarke’s 1955 spy novel “Earthlight” was based on these plans.

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