Space and nuclear engineer Ed McCollough joins us to discuss lunar & space colonization. Ed is an Associate Fellow at the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the former Chairman of the AIAA Space Colonization Technical Committee and Board of Trustees at the University Space Research Association. He’s also formerly the Section-E Chairman of the ISNPS STAIF Conference, which focused on innovative approaches to colonizing space.
McCullough has spent considerable time on a proposal to construct a lunar dome measuring 25 miles in diameter and up to 5,000 feet tall as a means of engaging mankind in commercially viable lunar colonization. His plan, based on decades of engineering experience and collaboration with numerous aerospace industry scientists, is claimed to be achievable with today’s technology with a construction time of only 15 years, after which the lunar colony would become commercially self-sustaining and able to sell beamed solar power back to the Earth as a means of paying for itself.
In McCullough’s vision, lunar colonization would begin with an underground human habitat in which colonists would manage automated fabrication and assembly machinery to create the required components for a pressurized dome. McCullough discusses the specifications of the dome, as well as many of the challenges associated with lunar colonization – which including finding suitable gases to provide such a massive dome with a breathable atmosphere, as well as how to overcome the issue of micro-particular lunar regolith, which can damage space suits and cause respiratory issues if inhaled.
Water can be produced in mass quantities as steam simply by heating the lunar regolith, and reduced to O2 and H2 as required. Nitrogen, as indicated by LCROSS data, can be produced from ammonia found in lunar craters – and ammonia is also useful, says McCullough, as a stable propellant that does not require cryogenic cooling for storage.
In addition to providing valuable opportunities to harvest solar power, lunar colonization offers the opportunity for sensitive particle detectors for high-energy physics research, along with an excellent platform as a production facility for materials to be used in exploration deeper in the solar system. The chief advantage of lunar fabrication of spacecraft components, indicates McCullough, is the reduced energy required to move those components into orbit for eventual launch on a variety of missions throughout the solar system.
While Ed McCullough’s description of the applications of lunar colonization is detailed, he has taken significant real-world steps towards developing a program to realize this scientific and technical vision. He describes past projects launch a real-life lunar colonization mission, and his efforts to assemble the engineering talent and funding to undertake a real-life lunar colonization project in the near future.