Terraforming the Moon by Comet

In my last blog post, I discussed the passed in David A. Hardy’s book, Atlas of the Solar System, in which he described the possible methods which might be used in the future to transform Mercury, Venus, the Moon and Mars into worlds, where humans and other creatures could live in the open, instead of the enclosed environments they need now to protect them from the harsh conditions of space. In the case of Venus, comets would be used to increase the planet’s rotation from its current 224 Earth days to a terrestrial day, and give the planet water. Looking through YouTube, I found this video by Fraser Cain, in which he talks about using the same method to terraform the Moon, as suggested by the space scientist and SF writer, Gregory Benford. This is part of a series of videos on space and space colonisation. At the beginning of the video, he mentions a previous one about the terraforming of Venus.

The explanatory section on the YouTube page provides this transcript of his talk.

In our episode about terraforming Venus, we talked about cooling the planet with a giant sunshade, and then hand-wavingly bind up all that carbon dioxide.

We did the same with Mars, filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses to warm it up, and releasing the planet’s vast stores of C02 to thicken the atmosphere. Then just crash in a few comets worth of water and upgrade them to to a 3 star resort.

We’re pitching this as a new series on the Discovery Network, called “Flip My Planet – Canada”.

Now let’s turn our imagination towards another rockball that is really more of a fixer-upper: The Moon. I know, you never even thought of the Moon as a place that we could possibly terra-renovate. Go ahead and imagine with me all the possibilities of a verdant green and blue little world hanging in the night sky. Doesn’t that sound great?

So, what does it take? Do we tear it down and just use the orbital lot space? Should we raise it up and lay a new foundation? Or could we get away with a few coats of paint and adding an atrium on the backside?

Fortunately for me, scientist and sci-fi author Gregory “Planetary Makeover” Benford has already done the math.

Let’s take a look at what we’d need to get the Moon habitable. For starters, the fact that the Moon is so close to Earth is a huge advantage. This is like living on the same block as a Home Depot, and we won’t have to travel far to get supplies and equipment to and from our project.

We’re going to need an atmosphere thick enough to breathe and trap in the Sun’s heat. This takes wild comet capture and harvest, tear them apart and smash them into the Moon.

Benford notes that you probably want be careful not to let an entire comet collide with the Moon because it might spray your primary investment home with debris and do a little damage to the resale value, or potentially annoy your tenants.

This could get bad enough that we’d have to terraform Earth to get it livable again, and you’d need to bring in Mike Holmes to publicly shame us and put our primary residence back in order.

After you’d splattered a few comets on the Moon, it would have an atmosphere almost immediately. The transfer of momentum from the comet chunks would get the Moon rotating more rapidly.

If you invest a little more in your planning stage, you could get the Moon spinning once every 24 hours, and even tilt its axis to get seasons. Benford estimates that we’d need 100 Halley’s mass comets to get the job done. This might sound like a pretty tall order, but it’s tiny compared to number of comets we’d need for your Mars or Venus real estate scheme.

The maintenance and upkeep isn’t going to be without its challenges. Low gravity on the Moon means that it can’t hold onto its atmosphere for longer than a few thousand years.

Once you got the process going, you’d need to be constantly replenishing our your orbital cottage with fresh atmosphere. Fortunately, we’ve got a whole Solar System’s worth of ice to exploit.

The benefits of a terraformed summer home on the Moon are numerous. For example, if the Moon had an atmosphere as thick as the Earth’s, you could strap on a pair of wings and fly around in the 1/6th gravity.

The enormous gravity of the Earth would pull the Moon’s oceans around the planet with 20 meter tides. You could surf the tide for kilometers as it washes across the surface in a miniature version of the shallow water scene in Interstellar.

This might be the greatest sponsorship opportunity for GoPro of all time. Look out Kiteboarding, you’re about to get more extreme.

Everyone always wants to talk about terraforming Venus or Mars. Let them be, that’s too much work. The next time someone brings it up at D&D night, you can blow their minds with your well crafted argument on why we want to start with the Moon.

I can remember David A. Hardy illustrating a few articles on future human habitats on the Moon, showing people enjoying themselves flying around and swimming at just such a lunar resort. One of these was for an article in the sadly short-lived space and astronomy magazine, New Voyager. The resort was in an enclosed dome, rather than on the terraformed surface. The Scots space scientist, Duncan Lunan, in his book, Man and the Planets, also suggested that to prevent the Moon’s atmosphere from being lost to space, the whole planet should be contained with a kind of giant inflatable bubble. This is waaaay beyond modern technological capability, but not, perhaps, that of the future. So perhaps at some point in the far future, the Moon may also join Earth as a living, habitable world.

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5 Responses to “Terraforming the Moon by Comet”

  1. Julian Says:

    Wow! Loved these posts, bit of a fan of Hardy’s and Lunan’s work too. Nice to have a change from the politics. Did you know that Tsiolkovski came up with the idea of the Space Elevator first? Happy new Year, Julian

    • Beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Julian, and a happy New Year to you too. I didn’t know that Tsiolkovsky was the first to propose the space elevator. I knew that one of the Russians had, as Arthur C. Clarke cites them in ‘The Fountains of Paradise’, but I didn’t know that Tsiolkovsky had also done it. It’s amazing to think how far ahead he was.

  2. Julian Says:

    Yes indeed. I got a picture book about space exploration when I was about 9 and that had a page on him and I have been a fan ever since. I do think it says something about Stalin’s paranoia and judgement, that with a war looming, he had killed a major rocketry expert. Not to mention post-war space exploration, which I am sure he would have had much to contribute.

    • Beastrabban Says:

      I didn’t realise he was killed by Stalin. All I’ve ever read about him simply gave his dates, but it really doesn’t surprise me. From the 1920s onwards the Communists distrusted the Cosmists – these were visionaries, of whom Tsiolkovsky was one, who believed that humanity should also expand outwards into the universe. They were also involved in projects to resurrect the dead using technology. Several Cosmists welcomed the Russian Revolution, but I think they were too independent for the Soviet authorities, and with ideas that they considered suspect or dangerous.

      Apart from Tsiolkovsky, there were other Russian rocket scientists, who became victims of Stalin’s regime. One was Sergei Korolyov, who was responsible for the Soviet space programme. He was thrown in a gulag under Stalin. I read or heard somewhere that after his death, an examination of his body showed that he’d had his jaw broken three times. The injuries were so severe that it meant that he was afterwards unable to close his jaws properly.

      It’s interesting to speculate how far ahead humanity would be now, if Stalin had not killed and persecuted Tsiolkovsky and so many others.

  3. Julian Says:

    Very sad indeed. What a waste of human potential.

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