Here's How The US Military Plans To Colonize The Moon

We Terrans have harbored dreams of colonizing the moon for decades now. The idea was introduced to pop culture via the wild imaginings of sci-fi writers like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and others in the mid-20th century. But while writers like Heinlein were cooking up lunar revolution in classics like "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress," the military had already been brainstorming how to put a colony on the moon for years. According to Astronautix, the U.S. Air Force was thinking of setting up shop on the moon as early as 1958. The Lunex Project studied the prospect of an Air Force base on the moon, but the government ultimately went with NASA's Apollo project, opting for the more symbolic "giant leap for mankind" over a full-on lunar military base. (Lunex was maybe a bit too ambitious, and would have most likely been strained by the Air Force's involvement in the Vietnam War, anyway. But this is probably for the best. Ridiculous things tend to happen when NASA teams up with the Air Force.)

Unclassified National Security Archives documents reveal that the Army also had plans to shoot at things from the moon. Project Horizon was another overly ambitious military op that hoped to put a manned vehicle on the lunar surface by 1966 and "[establish] a permanent base as soon thereafter as possible." Those projects didn't pan out, but that doesn't mean the U.S. military has scrapped its plans for the moon.

How much would it cost the US military to colonize the moon?

In its 2020 budget amendment summary, NASA outlined its plans for getting people back to the moon by 2024. After putting American boots on lunar ground that year, the administration hopes to have established a "sustained presence" there by the year 2028. Like the government's previous plans for a moon colony, this one is admittedly a "bold objective." But the administration has proven that it can achieve great things as long as it has the resources it needs to do so.

And there's the rub. How much is all this moon meandering going to cost us taxpayers? Market Watch estimates that we could get started for as little as $10 billion, and that the total price tag would be just $35 billion. If that sounds facetious, consider the absolutely ludicrous amount of money the United States dedicates to its military budget. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation reports that the increase in military spending from 2019 to 2020 alone was greater than that Market Watch estimate. With a 2020 military budget of $778 billion, the United States spent more on "defense" than the next 11 countries on that list combined. So yes, a $35 billion price tag may seem like a lot, but it definitely isn't impossible. And in light of how U.S. military interventions have turned out in recent decades, perhaps future administrations will start focusing more money on science, rather than whatever it is the military does with all those trillions of dollars.

The challenging physics of putting a colony on the moon

Prying even a little money from the cold grip of the military budget is no easy hurdle to leap. And it's merely the first in a long race that ends with the United States putting a colony on the moon. There are also a ton of physical challenges to building on the moon's harsh environment. 

The Infographics Show notes that we would not be able to build on the moon in the same way as we do on Earth. We will have to compensate for conditions such as extreme heat. The lunar surface ranges from -343 to 260 degrees Fahrenheit. Buildings will also have to be modified to suit the moon's gravity, which is one sixth of Earth's. Then there's all the space debris that is constantly pelting the moon's atmosphere-free surface. Any structures on the moon would have to be able to withstand such extreme conditions. They would also have to be built on the moon. It is too cost inefficient to launch prefabricated structures from Earth, so any lunar colony construction solutions will have to be able to be assembled in space. Scientists hope to be able to use lunar regolith, basically moon sand, as a base for a kind of concrete for construction on the moon. NASA's planned moon colony may be ambitious and difficult to achieve, but it's not impossible. So who knows? Maybe we'll have a colony on the moon within the decade.