November 20, 2010

Engineers, Architects Compete For 2069 Lunar Colony Design

What if humans could occupy the Moon just 100 years after our first visit there in 1969? Could the Moon become an independent, self-sustaining, and sovereign state?  If so, why not begin designing such a world now?

Those are the questions being tackled at this year's Moon Capitol Competition, in which bright, young and talented designers and architects are showcasing their ideas for a lunar colony in 2069.

The design contest, an exercise to combine architecture with engineering, was created by the nonprofit urban planning group SHIFTboston. 

Competitors and judges describe some of the entries as wild, crazy, baffling and "way impossible".

The submitted illustrations and concepts have touched on subjects ranging from moon-based athletic games to a lunar cemetery, with some of the entries taking on serious issues such as world hunger and dwindling energy resources.

"The most important thing was bringing together two completely different industries," said Kim Poliquin, SHIFTboston's founding executive director, during an interview with CNN.

"Architecture is changing as our society and technology changes. This shows how architecture could become a part of the astronautics industry."

Although humans have long dreamed of space colonies, SHIFTboston's Moon Capital 2010 competition seeks to combine two fields that often find themselves at odds: architecture and engineering.

"The tension between what is mostly ideal or perhaps impossible and what is logical and clearly achievable is necessary to arrive at passionate and creative solutions," said Madhu Thangavelu, a contest judge and professor of space systems design at University of Southern California.

The entries were "mostly exercises in vision and architecture and wholly meant to inform engineers where humanity's priorities lie with respect to human space activity on the moon," he told CNN.

Designer Bryna Andersen is among this year's finalists for an entry that envisions a moon base surrounding a vast satellite dish that would gather solar energy and transmit it back to Earth.  

Another concept imagined a moon colony in an underground "lava tube".

Two architecture students at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, submitted an entry that envisioned a giant sports stadium as the venue for the first international athletic games. New sporting events could even be included that harness the moon's low gravity environment, the designers said.

"We researched a lot of energy producing and capturing technologies that we could incorporate into the project," Keith Bradley, 23, told CNN.

Bradley's partner, 22-year-old Brian Harms, said the colony would include "places for algae farms and other plant life to grow -- for food and to produce oxygen."

Space is an ideal place to imagine the impossible, Thangavelu added.

"There is something in the American psyche that caters to the stuff of 'Star Wars' and 'Star Trek' and 'Avatar,' don't you think?"

Bradley and Harms acknowledged the influence of science fiction on their project.

"The illustration of the elevator core -- looking up -- I kept coming back to 'Tron' for that one," said Harms.

"Now the new 'Tron' movie is coming out in December and we're excited about that."

Is it possible Harms or Bradley or one of the other contest designers could someday contribute to a lunar colony plan?

"It's totally possible," said Poliquin.

"We just have to be willing to spend the money on it. Let's just say it's probably going to happen, we just don't know when."


Image 2: Bryna Andersen's concept for a microwave provision of terrestrial energy collected with lunar photovoltaics which combines an interesting program and the notion of creating Earth-normal gravity on the lunar surface in a massive rotating torus.


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