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|Step One: The Moon |
I may be paraphrasing here, but someone once said, “A journey of a few million miles starts with a stop by the grocery store.” The grocery store for this trip is just down the block, only about 250,000 miles away. Though you won’t find any cases of Mr. Pibb on the Moon, what you will find is water: Buckets and buckets of water, according to NASA. One of their recent missions discovered that that place is just lousy with crater-shaped ice cubes of water. Water is also thinly dispersed over its surface.
The Moon is much smaller than the Earth, on the order of 1/80th the Earth’s mass. So, once you are out of the “gravity well” of the Earth, it can eat your interplanetary dust. The escape from gravity makes the Moon a great staging area to “daisy-chain” your travels to other worlds, but just like the grocery store, it’s got its own thing going on too.
NASA has been seriously considering using “inflatable habitats” for doing work on the Moon. These habitats are akin to camping on the Moon—you make your way there, set up the tents and get to work on building your winter cabin.
The crust of the Moon—called the regolith—is a great place to take refuge. Refuge from astronaut-killing cosmic radiation. Going outside the protective magnetic field of the Earth is a dangerous prospect. Cosmic radiation is not like getting the arm that you’re hanging out the window of your car a little sunburned. Oh, no.
The Sun, in addition to putting out a lot of light, streams out radiation all of the time in the form of very, very energetic particles. These energetic particles are brimming over with energy, have the ability to penetrate everything but the thickest of materials, and basically can give you wicked cancer, in a hurry.
So, building a little hidey-hole in the Moon to escape these solar death-rays is an absolute necessity. This is pretty much the case on every other body with a “surface” you would be able to visit in the Solar System.