Lunar and Martian tunnels could contain offworld colonies

Massive lava tubes under the surface of the Moon and Mars could be prime real estate for future offworld habitats. "With heights that dwarf Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, and 'skylights' as big as football fields," the formations could contain small cities protected from solar radiation, reports LiveScience. According to a new study of the geology published in the scientific journal Earth-Science Reviews, the "most of the lunar tubes could be intact, making the Moon an extraordinary target for subsurface exploration and potential settlement in the wide protected and stable environments of lava tubes. From LiveScience:

Science-fiction authors like Kim Stanley Robinson have occasionally imagined pressurizing craters or lava tubes and filling them with air. But Pozzobon said that scenario is unlikely, not least because in the moon's lava tubes,  openings can be as wide as a football field.

"Due to their huge size and the possibility of having leaks due to the fracturing of the rocks, I would see pressurizing them very unlikely," Pozzobon told Live Science. "What is more likely is to establish settlements within these voids, either to host humans or for storing equipment."

Even stashing a base inside a lava tube presents challenges, however.

"Although a lava tube could provide a shelter to thermal excursion, radiation and micro impacts, it is not easily accessible and the basaltic rocks of its interior can be razor-like sharp and the terrain very uneven," he said. "So the engineering challenges of placing inflatable habitats within such impressive caves is not trivial and requires very detailed studies."

image: European Space Agency researchers explore lava tubes on Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. (ESA–L. Ricci)