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Lunar Laws

written by Steven Wintergerst on December 24, 2004 | contact me
number of views: 74721 |   printable version (text) (PDF)

Earth's beautiful moon.
Earth's beautiful moon.
Credit: Joanne Hailey
Am I crazy?

Well, yes, but that may not be the point... Posting an article about the Moon on a website about Mars seems pretty counterproductive. Who’s going to read it? Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society would have my head. Sending men to the moon will just prove to be an enormous waste of money, and set trips to Mars back by some fifty years or more. Why waste fuel, and money going to the Moon when you can get to Mars for almost the same amount of energy?

Granted, Mars has far more useful resources than the moon. Mars has hydrogen, abundant ice, an atmosphere for aero braking, lots of iron, and volcanoes that promise abundant veins of rich mineral ores, possibly even geothermal energy. Every resource a colonist could possibly want is to be found on Mars, and more. Perhaps Mars even has enough resources to terraform the world, making something akin to a second earth.

Compared to Mars, the moon is a slag heap, filled with nothing but the refuse of the solar system. It has no atmosphere to aero brake in. There’s next to zero hydrogen for fueling a return trip, or even making the water necessary to flush toilets and bathe in. The surface of the moon is low in iron, and building a greenhouse will require sheets of glass several feet thick, or billions of watts of grow lamps.

All this as it is, the moon is close to earth. Trips there and back can be conducted quickly, allowing savings of space by way of less food. Real time communication is possible between Earth and the Moon, and the vacuum, although costing fuel for landings provides a number of industrial possibilities that cannot be performed on Mars.

I’m not saying that the moon is a better place to visit than Mars. I’m not saying we should go there first. I am saying that ANY manned mission to another world, be it Mars, the Moon, an Asteroid, a Comet, or straight into the sun for what it’s worth, is a step closer to sending manned missions to several other worlds. I am also saying that despite Zubrin’s arguments, which I agree with, it seems that NASA wants the moon first.

If NASA takes the moon first, it will be very important to make the most of it. We cannot afford to junk off-planet manned bases, because doing so will discredit manned missions in general. The public has put up with over 20 years of costly off-planet missions in Skylab, and they are sick of it.

Orbiting stations funded by the earth will never impress the public. They’re no more scenery than a car in the desert, and there are no resources. Any world, even one as resource poor as the moon can beat that.

Thus, I will write about the moon, the poorest of off planet resources. Here, I will write about a few laws that may be enacted on the moon. With a new world comes new laws. The Moon is perhaps the most unusual of worlds we will colonize, and thus, some unusual laws may need to be enacted.


The lunar surface seen from the earth is a large section of prime real estate. This side always faces the earth, providing lunar colonists with a reassuring view of “home,” as well as direct communication links to the earth, a reliable way to mark time, a navigational aid which is always visible, and a light source which helps to counterbalance the erratic solar day.

The lunar surface seen from earth is also a very important area to terrestrials, who have looked up at this face since the dawn of civilization, using it as a source of comfort, inspiration, and time marking. Many people have children thanks to the romantic urges brought on by this glowing luminary of the night sky. Obviously, certain considerations must be taken into consideration when constructing objects on this side of the moon, which would not need to be worried about on the other side of the moon.

People on earth viewing the moon with the naked eye should never have to see any intentional human alterations to this face. I have come to this conclusion after repeatedly watching the G.I. Joe episode where cobra uses a laser to sketch his face into the lunar surface. Ok, that’s awful. Forget I ever said that.

While it is possible that many stargazers would like to see the original Apollo craft, and such, there are sure to be some telescope users who are just waiting to sue the government for messing up their pretty lunar surface.

For these reasons, it will be necessary to ensure that structures and surface alterations on the near side of the moon do not exceed a certain size. An astronaut on the moon might reasonably wonder just how he is supposed to know how big is too big here.

Of course, since the moon is so far away, this is really not likely to be of much concern unless large fields of solar panels, or transportation schemes are involved. Colonies will mostly be underground, and here, the only concern is how big of a dirt pile can be built.

This said, the real question is HOW BIG? Well, I will first look at “Resolving power” to help answer this. Resolving power tells you how much detail you can see out of a certain telescope, and it is based directly on the diameter of the lens in question.

The equation to determine resolving power states that the angle between two objects discernable through a certain telescope is inversely proportionate to the diameter of the lens. Larger lenses can differentiate between two details closer together. The equation is A=11.6/D Where A equals the angular distance in arc second, and D equals the diameter of the lens in centimeters.

The human pupil can open to a diameter of about 0.8 centimeters, and thus, unable to resolve details smaller that 14.5 arc second. Since the earth is surrounded by an atmosphere, which diffracts some of the light we receive, it is usually not possible to resolve more than about 0.5 seconds of arc. Adaptive optics, and other techniques are starting to break down this barrier, and it is possible that in the near future these techniques will become cheap. Advancement in CCDs have recently made it possible for amateur astronomers to gather images which rival those of professional observatories only 30 years ago.

Most amateur telescopes have traditionally been refracting, that is, with a lens, like that of a magnifying glass. These types of telescopes feature an obvious limitation in size, due to gravity, which causes lenses larger than about 1 meter (100 centimeters) in size to sag. I would suggest that this is about the limit of amateur astronomers, and if they have a bigger telescope, they would probably get a kick out of seeing lunar bases.

Thus, I suggest that we assume that lunar bases should be made small enough that a 1 meter telescope could not see them. A 1 meter telescope would have a resolving power of 0.1 arc second.

To learn how large a structure on the moon would have to be to be seen by such a mammoth lens, we will need to examine the small angle Formula, which is used to calculate the size of a body based on its distance from the observer, and the angular diameter of the body.

In this equation the angular diameter of a body in arc seconds divided by 206,265 is equal to the linear diameter of the body divided by the distance from the observer. The moon is about 384,000 KM from the earth, thus, even with such a draconian law as I have already suggested, it would be possible to make visible alterations to the near side of the moon’s surface, so long as these alterations did not disturb an area with a diameter of more than 10 kilometers.

I don’t know about you, but an array of solar collectors with a diameter of 10 kilometers sounds to me like it ought to serve the needs of most any lunar colony. The world’s largest radio telescope, in Arecibo is only 300 meters in diameter, barely even a fraction of the size of an object that could safely be placed on the moon without being easily detected. I suspect, however, that most arrays will be somewhat smaller than this.

To avoid detection, I also suggest that structures larger than a kilometer ought to be spaced at least 10 kilometers apart from each other, in order to reduce the likelihood that a pattern of structures might be observed.

Thus, size of objects ought not to be a major problem. Two other factors may also come into play on the surface of the moon, which may or may not be an issue. These are albedo, and shadows.

Albedo is the measure of reflectivity of a surface. The average surface of the moon has an albedo similar to coal dust. Since the amount of light which arrives at the earth is so low, humans are unable to detect color changes; however, albedo may be an issue. Again, most structures will be underground (where albedo is dependant on the color of the regolith above it) or designed with specific considerations in mind (Such as solar arrays,) which will make altering the albedo difficult.

However, with some objects, such as radio antennas or dishes, and roads, care ought to be taken to ensure that the albedo of the structure is a fair match with that of the surrounding terrain. Proper application of paints, and texture coating should serve well in this field, after a certain amount of research.

Shadows are cast by all objects, and the situation of objects in a proper setting to ensure that no shadow longer than 10 kilometers can be cast might also be necessary. Since the horizon on the moon is significantly less than 10 kilometers away, I doubt that this will be an issue of any real importance.

All of these laws would deal with the near side of the moon (including the libration points) since this portion of the moon is visible from the earth. The far side of the earth, being hidden by the bulk of the lunar body itself, would be exempt from such considerations, and a thriving industrial community could be built on this portion of the moon to any scale desired without upsetting the folks back home.


The moon is a dead world, a world with no history. There have been no great leaders, wars, or agreements made on the moon. Only twelve humans have ever been on the moon, and only a handful of instruments have been sent there.

Those instruments represent some of the most important moments of human history. Whether you believe that moment is embodied in only Apollo Eleven, or in all the Apollo missions and every unmanned rover that ever arrived on the surface of the moon, you will probably agree that these sites deserve at least the same respect due to a national park.

I believe that the areas these twelve astronauts saw should be designated as national parks, historic landmarks, or whatever else might apply. We can get a rough estimate as to the extent of these parks by realizing the horizon on the moon is about 2 miles away. The people traveled a bit as well, but even then, a few handfuls of national parks a few miles in diameters is no real hindrance to real estate.

In conserving these parks, it will be obviously desirable that no structures poke their heads into the view the astronauts saw. Of course, if need be, it may be possible to construct tunnels beneath these sites, so long as it is certain they will not cave in.

A national park on the moon provides a number of serious questions though. Footprints and tire tracks on the moon can survive indefinitely. Thus, transportation around such landmarks would be a troublesome question. However, people, being people, will want to get near the actual artifacts, the rovers, the landing gear, the instrument packages, everyone will want to walk up to these, and see a little brass plaque telling you exactly what it is. There will also need to be ranger stations they can visit.

Perhaps, when walking out to see them requires you to put on an enormous suit and risk genital cancers, there will be fewer tourists, but even here on earth, scuba diving shows that some people will do anything to see pretty scenes and take pictures. There is likely to be a continuing need for EVA of some kind on the moon, so there will be people who know how to use these suits, and do not fear the dangers.

The best solution is likely to be underground tunnels, which come close to the site, and open up behind some hill, or crater the astronauts didn’t look behind. Pressurized rovers are likely to be big business, allowing people to see, without risking death from solar flares, micrometeorites, or pure stupidity.

Such rovers would need an airlock, so the brave could get out and walk around. Ranger stations would have to be set up so that the rangers can keep an eye on people, lest they hop on the rover to see if it works, or trample all over the historic footprints.

Orbital craft, to travel over the site might also prove a good business, and all such businesses, which allow people to see the site without actually walking on it, should be encouraged, for preservation reasons.

It is possible that other areas will prove to be beautiful sites, and various types of lunar camping, tourism, etc. might spring up. Trails may become a truly serious concern for future lunar leaders.

Of course, my idea of laws for the moon may barely scratch the surface of true concerns.

Works Cited:

1) Moon Missions: William F. Melberg
2) The Case for Mars: Robert Zubrin

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