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What will the first Moon colonies look like?
Living on the Moon, it seems, wouldn’t be so different from living in the Bronx. The apartments would be snug, architectural flourishes minimal and the green spaces few and far between. But not to worry—we’ve got roughly 200 years to get it right.
That, anyway, is the time frame foreseen by Brent Sherwood, a program manager for Solar System Mission Formulation at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Sherwood is also one of the leading figures in the emerging field of space architecture. As such, he spends a good deal of his time thinking about Moon cities, Mars suburbs and the viability of mining asteroids for building materials.
“There are a few things on Earth that we can never replicate,” Sherwood says, referring to the interstellar settlements of the future. “Unlimited open sky, genuinely solid natural ground, the sea. But everything else, especially the built human environment we call architecture and urbanism, can be fashioned for space in some way.”
Moon realtors will one day boast of curved buildings that preserve atmospheric pressure with large windows facing Earth—which would be “up.” Sherwood says in more distant settlements, where we’d likely need significant shielding mass and rotating architecture to produce artificial weight, there would be a lot of “indoor-outdoors, like in a mall.”
While the conditions of space will place limitations on many human activities, Sherwood is convinced that others could be greatly enhanced. “Imagine a weightless swimming pool in an Earth-orbital resort,” he says. “What would it be like to swim and play in such an environment?”
As a space architect, Sherwood has to go beyond imagining such scenarios and propose ways we might go about achieving them. And it’s not all about floaty-boaty hotel pools, either; spending time in space is, necessarily, a perilous proposition. There’s cosmic radiation to think about, thousand-degree temperature swings, exploding eyeballs. Water supply is going to be an issue, as is the potential for space settlers to simply lose their marbles.
To minimize the stress of moving to a neighborhood more than a quarter of a million miles from home, Sherwood says, developers will need to provide familiar diversions, like cinemas and bars, along with a slew of other lifestyle elements that the average Earthling takes for granted: porches, table lamps, flushing toilets. Even then, it’ll require a special kind of person to take the leap—“people who just want to set up their life in a faraway place.”
As for Sherwood, he has his own reasons for wanting to live in space. “Apart from all the challenges of building civilization in a place unprecedented in the history of architecture,” he says, “I know that as age has its way with my joints, I could stay mobile longer in reduced gravity.” —Boyd Farrow