Prominent astrophysicist Joseph Silk appeared on theoretical physicist Sean Carroll's podcast "Mindscape" this week to talk about his book Back to the Moon: the Next Giant Leap for Mankind. Silk makes the argument that we should (and will) colonize and exploit the moon.
First, not meany people realize that this is already starting to happen. From an article about Silk and his book in Johns Hopkins Magazine (link here):
NASA is commencing the first test phase of its $93 billion Artemis program, which will send four astronauts to the moon in 2025 and establish a permanent base there, with the grand ambition to use the moon as a launchpad for the first-ever crewed mission to Mars.
China's space agency is planning to land astronauts, before 2030, in the same area NASA is planning for: the moon's south pole, where water ice and other resources for lunar settlement can be found. This seems to point toward a Space Race similar to the one between the U.S. and The Soviet Union in the 1960s, but with much more at stake.
A Japanese company, ispace, is planning to use a SpaceX rocket to become the first private company to make a cargo delivery to the moon.
Silk's professional interest in a moon base is the possibility of giant telescopes on the moon that would lead to tremendous discoveries that telescopes on Earth and even in space are incapable of.
The low gravity on the moon, for instance, could allow for easier manufacturing of megatelescopes 10 times larger than what's possible on Earth, and the lack of lunar atmosphere can allow those telescopes to peer farther afield with exquisite precision, Silk says. These features will be crucial for studying far larger samples of Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system—and in turn for tackling one of humanity's most probing mysteries: Are we alone in this universe? …
The megatelescopes, Silk says, could also help us understand the very origins of the cosmos, the dark ages before the first stars appeared.
But Silk also sees the moon as an improved launch site for more space travel. Fuel could be produced on the moon from liquefying oxygen and hydrogen goudn in lunar ice in the depths of polar craters. He envisions private moon resorts for the wealthy as soon as 15 or 20 years, and eventually denser settlements, using lunar materials and oxygen from the ice deposits.