In July 1969, sometime between when Heinlein proved science fiction could be provocative and L. Ron Hubbard proved it could be stupid, NASA made it science reality. But ever since, fascination with our geological satellite has mostly remained just that. Our dreams of making a new home outside of Earth’s atmosphere have progressed little beyond the realm of Newt Gingrich soundbites until very recently, on the backs of the visionary ideas of people like Elon Musk.
Today, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced a startling development in their ongoing exploratory work. Their Selenological and Engineering Explorer probe, affectionately dubbed “Selene,” has detected a 31 mile (50 kilometers) “lava tube” that runs deep beneath the moon’s “Marius Hills.”
JAXA believes that volcanic activity created the cave system, but more importantly that it could be crucial to the goal of creating a habitable home. In the official press release, they explained that “lava tubes may be the best place to build large-scale lunar bases because their interiors protect from dangerous space radiation, micrometeorite bombardment, and wide temperature oscillations.
Previously, such hidden pathways were theorized, but never proven. JAXA Researcher Junichi Haruyama said that “we’ve known about these locations that were thought to be lava tubes … but their existence has not been confirmed until now.”
This specific cavern runs for roughly 31 miles, and is wider than a football field. JAXA has named it “Kaguya,” after a princess in a Japanese fairy tale. And like something out of a fairy tale, it represents a sudden shift in fortune; one that could change the way we approach the next chapter of human civilization.
While the moon is thought to have had a temporary atmosphere billions of years ago — caused by the very volcanic activity that created these saves — it has been wholly unsuitable to human life for as long as human life has existed. That lack of atmosphere means we would be under near-constant bombardment by the sun’s unfiltered radiation, wilting under 200+ degree days, and nearly -300 degree nights.
The discovery brims with potential for companies like Musk’s SpaceX and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, who continue to drive forward innovation and public awareness surrounding humanity’s ongoing extraterrestrial quest. For most, who will get there first is immaterial. What matters is that we will take another giant leap for mankind — and likely sooner rather than later.
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