Five decades after humans first set foot on the Moon, a new initiative is underway to bring us back—and this time, the aspiration is to settle there on a permanent basis. Today, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has released a design for the “Moon Village,” a concept presented by ESA Director General Jan Woerner for the first full-time human habitat on the lunar surface. With ESA and MIT, SOM is master planning, designing, and engineering the settlement.
“The project presents a completely new challenge for the field of architectural design,” said Design Partner Colin Koop. “The Moon Village must be able to sustain human life in an otherwise uninhabitable setting. We have to consider problems that no one would think about on Earth, like radiation protection, pressure differentials, and how to provide breathable air.”
Solving these challenges requires cross-disciplinary collaboration, and a completely new way of approaching the space industry’s most complicated problems. ESA is providing a diverse range of expertise from the European Astronaut Centre and the European Space Research and Technology Centre. This experience is coupled with faculty from MIT’s Aerospace Engineering Department and SOM’s extensive experience in architecture, engineering, urban planning, and sustainable design to bring a holistic approach to the project.
Resiliency and self-sufficiency are key. The master plan envisions the Moon Village on the rim of Shackleton Crater near the South Pole, which receives near continuous daylight throughout the lunar year. This planning is essential for the first of three envisioned development phases—several critical infrastructural components and habitable structures—that would allow the Village to harness sunlight for energy and set up in situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiments, or the generation of food and other life-sustaining elements using the Moon’s natural resources. Water from the permanently shadowed depressions near the South Pole would be extracted to create breathable air and rocket propellant for transportation and for the support of industrial activities. The settlement would be clustered close to the crater’s water-ice deposits. Additionally, each cluster of modules would be connected to enable seamless mobility between structures, with communications towers on the highest ridges of the uneven terrain.
The individual pressurized modules are designed to inflate and expand to increase user space for future growth and program requirements. The concept calls for three to four-story structures, with workspaces, living quarters, and environmental control and life support systems. These inflatable structures would provide—together with regolith-based protective shells—resistance to extreme temperatures, projectiles, regolith dust, and solar radiation. More importantly, these features would enable the Moon Village to carry out its much larger purpose as a scientific, industrial, and entertainment development, and an endeavor with far-reaching goals.
The Moon Village is an open, multi-partner concept that fits into ESA’s reflection on future exploration beyond 2050—complementary to projects already validated by ESA’s member states—and into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Strategic Plan to “extend human presence deeper into space and to the Moon for sustainable longterm exploration and utilization.” It is an opportunity to explore the Moon in its entirety, to spur research and commercial growth, and to serve as a stepping stone to achieve even greater ambitions: extending the human footprint to Mars and beyond.
About Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is one of the leading architecture, interior design, engineering, and urban planning firms in the world. Since its founding more than 80 years ago, SOM has earned a reputation for design excellence with a portfolio that includes some of the most important architectural accomplishments of the 20th and 21st centuries, and has been a leader in the research and development of specialized technologies, new processes and innovative ideas, many of which have had a palpable and lasting impact on the design profession and the physical environment. The firm’s longstanding leadership in design and building technology has been honored with nearly 2,000 awards for quality, innovation, and management. The American Institute of Architects has recognized SOM twice with its highest honor, the Architecture Firm Award—in 1962 and again in 1996. The firm maintains offices in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Seattle, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, and Mumbai.
About the European Space Agency (ESA)
The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. ESA is an international organisation with 22 Member States. By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, it can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country.
About Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
The MIT community is driven by a shared purpose: to make a better world through education, research, and innovation. We are fun and quirky, elite but not elitist, inventive and artistic, obsessed with numbers, and welcoming to talented people regardless of where they come from. Founded to accelerate the nation’s industrial revolution, MIT is profoundly American. With ingenuity and drive, our graduates have invented fundamental technologies, launched new industries, and created millions of American jobs. At the same time, and without the slightest sense of contradiction, MIT is profoundly global. Our community gains tremendous strength as a magnet for talent from around the world. Through teaching, research, and innovation, MIT’s exceptional community pursues its mission of service to the nation and the world.