Nova (1974–…): Season 46, Episode 11 - Back to the Moon - full transcript

Fifty years after humans first stepped foot on the moon, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs engage in new discoveries to make life on the moon a reality.

Are you wondering how healthy the food you are eating is? Check it -
Fifty years after humans
first set foot on the moon,

it may finally be time
to go back.

We have seen a literal explosion
of interest

in the last five years or so.

Now it's not just
one or two countries.

It's the whole world
interested in going.

This time it's different.

This time we want
to stick around.

Now has come the time for us
to make the next giant leap.

NASA hopes it will become

an enabler for lots of different
activity on the moon.

But how would we do that?

And why?

What's changed since the 1970s?

We discovered that the moon
is rich in metal deposits,

large amounts of titanium
and iron.

Space resources will be
the next great

economic revolution
for humankind.

And a critical life-supporting

We think we have found ice.

If we do find water in space,

that's pretty much the most
significant discovery

that we could have.

This is an indication
that living on the moon

might be possible.

But is it a game changer?

Could we actually live off
the moon's resources

and build a self-sufficient
human presence beyond Earth?

Are we about to pioneer
a new frontier,

taking the next giant leap
for humankind?

There's only one way
to find out.

It's "Back to the Moon,"

right now, on "NOVA"!

Major funding for "NOVA"
is provided by the following:

December 14, 1972.

The final Apollo mission
prepares to return to Earth.

Are you ready for me
to go to the...?

As I take man's last step
from the surface,

for some time to come...

But we believe not too long
into the future...

I believe America's challenge
of today has forged

man's destiny of tomorrow.

As the last man ever to walk
on the moon leaves,

Gene Cernan dreams of a future
when people will return.

We leave as we came

and God willing
as we shall return,

with peace and hope
for all mankind.

But that hope
fails to materialize.

Years become decades,
and there is no return.

Now, 50 years later,
that may be about to change.

Humanity has its sights set
on the lunar surface once more.

In January 2019,

China's Chang'e 4 mission

becomes the first spacecraft
to soft land

on the moon's far side.

And a few months later,

Israel attempts to become
the fourth nation

to soft land a robotic probe
on the moon.

The idea that a small country

could land on the surface
of the moon

is a very audacious goal.

And missions to return people to
the moon are also taking shape.

NASA has a plan
to build something called

the Lunar Gateway,

which will orbit the moon
as a spacecraft

and allow astronauts
to shuttle back up and down

from the surface.

There's a real sense of hope
in the community

that we are within ten years

of putting people back there.

But why go back now?

What's changed since the end
of the Cold War moon race?

Recent discoveries suggest
there's much more to the moon

than meets the eye.

There are large metal deposits,

large amounts of titanium
and iron.

Space resources will be the next

great economic revolution
for humankind.

Such resources on the moon could
kickstart a new space economy.

Now it's the private sector,

they want to see if they have
a valid business case

of economic activity
that can happen on the moon.

But with this new economic
interest come new questions.

Is it even possible
to exploit resources

without ownership rights?

Still, at least nine
private companies

are forging ahead...

Banking on a future
that includes

regular traffic to the moon.

But getting there is still
costly and hard to achieve;

staying there even harder.

So what would it take
to establish humanity's

first foothold on another world?

The moon is inspiring because
it is so real to people.

It's something that we see
from our houses every night.

The moon is this gorgeous record
of solar system history

and just a few days away
waiting for us to go explore.

Brett Denevi is in charge
of the high resolution cameras

on NASA's latest
moon mapping mission...

The Lunar Reconnaissance

or LRO.

LRO's mission was to

essentially scout
the surface of the moon

for future human exploration.

LRO was called for in 2004

by President George W. Bush

as part of his initiative

to return humans
to the lunar surface.

Beginning no later than 2008,

we will send a series
of robotic missions

to the lunar surface
to research and prepare

for future human exploration.

Launched in 2009,

part of LRO's mission

is to survey the surface
of the moon.

The moon really preserves

a complete geologic record

back to nearly the formation
of the solar system.

LRO is offering new insights

into the moon's
complete geological history,

from a point
almost as tall as Everest

to giant Mare basins
half the size of continents,

and strange topography
unlike anything on Earth.

And this is our first look
at how the moon's surface

is still changing today.

We can actually map
the entire moon every month.

We're detecting the formation
of new impact craters

that have formed
since we've been in orbit.

So, that's really the reason

why we need these
very high-resolution images

that we get from the LRO,

to pick out scientifically
interesting landing sites

to enable future
human exploration.

Dreams of living and working
on the moon go back a long way.

In the early 1960s,
the U.S. Army had a design

for an elaborate, permanently
manned lunar base

called Project Horizon.

When Apollo astronauts
finally arrive,

the discoveries they make
in the rocks

actually add credibility
to this dream.

Hey, Neil, didn't I say
we might see some purple rocks?

Find a purple rock?


Very small, sparkly...

Geologist David Kring
has spent his career

studying their composition.

When the first samples
were returned

by the Apollo 11 astronauts,

scientists didn't know
what to expect.

Was the moon

composed of samples
like asteroids

that we had analyzed
as meteorites,

or was the moon
much like the Earth...

A complex planetary body?

Scientists, like myself,

use what we call
a petrographic microscope,

to transmit light through
very, very thin

slices of rock
to identify the minerals.

The rocks revealed that the moon

is a geologically complex

Much like Earth...
With lots of different minerals.

Lurking amongst those samples
were these basalts.

These were samples
that we realized were produced

when lavas flooded
the surface of the moon

and when we analyzed them,

we realized that
they had minerals

that were sometimes
accompanied by ilmenite.

Ilmenite is a mineral
that looks completely opaque

in our samples.

This mineral is composed
of iron, titanium,

and loads of oxygen.

With the Apollo-era discovery

of the moon's potential
mineral wealth,

some credible thinkers
seriously suggested

that the lunar surface could be
a source of materials

for building bases off Earth,

among them the legendry science
fiction writer Isaac Asimov

and co-inventor
of the particle accelerator,

physicist Gerard O'Neill.

The Apollo astronauts,
in many of their flights,

were picking up, just casually,
chunks of rock

on the lunar surface.

They were 40% aluminum
by weight.

And the moon is very rich
in titanium too,

which we never use enough of
here on Earth

because-because steel
is so much cheaper.

But you could do things with
titanium that can be very cute.

By using these resources
on the moon,

O'Neill suggested that
we could build large habitats

floating in free space.

Such structures would be
too expensive to build

and launch from Earth,

as the modestly sized
but costly $100 billion

International Space Station

But if the raw materials
are already available in space

then all kinds of construction
activities become conceivable.

And that's where
the moon comes in.

Basically what we're saying is,
the whole key to making habitats

which are built in free space

for a reasonable cost

is to get about 98%
of the material

from the surface of the moon.

That's essential

because it's always going to be
very expensive

to bring things up from here.

The moon is attractive
as a source of raw materials

for one simple reason: gravity.

When you want to lift something
off a planet,

your number one adversary
is gravity.

Rockets leaving Earth have
a pretty steep hill to climb.

Our planet's huge mass
pulls them back down.

We're stuck in what we call
a gravity well.

Earth has the deepest
gravity well

of all the rocky planets.

It's over 20 times deeper
than the moon's,

which is more of a dimple
than a well.

That low gravity
is dramatically displayed

by the astronauts' graceful
bounds across the surface.

And the fact that getting back
into lunar orbit

requires only a relatively
low-powered rocket motor.

Therefore anything

that we can develop
or manufacture

using lunar materials
has an enormous cost advantage

to anything that comes
from Earth.

Material that we can
get on the moon will cost

less than one-tenth of what it
would cost to launch from Earth.

By utilizing the resources

in space instead of
bringing it from Earth,

everybody benefits from that

because now we don't depend
from the resources from Earth.

But getting back to the moon

will require more than
the allure of mineral resources.

It needs something
far more valuable...


Prior to Apollo,

the question of water
hadn't even been raised.

When the Apollo samples
were collected,

we did not have
the analytical capabilities

to detect any water
in the samples.

If there was liquid water
on the moon, it's long gone.

With no atmosphere
to preserve it,

liquid water cannot exist
on the lunar surface.

And the rocks
the astronauts returned

appeared to be totally lacking
in water.

In fact, at the time,

it was inferred that the moon
was largely a dry planet.

Without water it was impossible
to live off the land.

We would constantly
have to resupply

our exploration effort
from the surface of the Earth.

The aridity of the
Apollo rock samples

would seem to rule out the dream

of living self-sufficiently
on the moon.

But they do hold clues
about how the moon formed

and from that springs new hopes
of living there one day.

Katherine Joy
is a planetary scientist

who studies the chemistry

of the moon and the evolution
of the early solar system.

There were several theories for
how the moon first formed.

One is the capture theory,

whereby the moon
was actually thought to be

an early planet that got
captured by Earth's gravity

and went into orbit around it.

There's also
a slightly strange idea

that maybe the early Earth

is spinning really fast
on its axis

and spun off a piece of the moon

and this is what we call
the fission hypothesis.

However, our ideas have changed

since we collected
the Apollo samples.

And the samples told us that

actually the moon and the Earth
are chemically similar.

And this gave rise
to this new model

called the
giant impact hypothesis.

We're still figuring out
the details,

but maybe the Earth was hit
by a body the size of Mars,

creating a massive shower
of super-heated material:

gas, dust, magma,

that then cooled down slowly
and coalesced,

forming the Earth at the center

and the moon trapped in orbit
around it.

If formed
from the same materials,

Earth and the moon would have
held a lot of water

locked inside
their hot interiors,

gradually releasing it onto
their surfaces as they cooled.

This raised
an intriguing possibility:

might the moon also have once
been wet like Earth?

Once we realize

that water actually is within
the interior of the moon,

we realize that when those lavas
were erupted to the surface,

those gases would've been

and liberated at the surface.

Geologists set out to estimate
the amount of gas

that would have come
from the moon's interior.

We calculated
that the volume of magma

erupting was, at times, so great
that it filled

space around the moon
with these gases

a transient atmosphere.

According to the impact theory...
As the moon cooled

and volcanic eruptions ceased...

Most of this atmosphere...
Including the water vapor...

Would have been lost into space.

This left the lunar surface
exposed to a vacuum...

Resulting in
a freeze-dried world.

So even if there had once been
water on the moon,

it seemed to be long gone.

But not everyone gave up
on the idea of lunar water.

Apollo 17 astronaut
and geologist Harrison Schmitt

remembers the research.

An old friend of mine,
Ken Watson and Harrison Brown

at Caltech in the 1960s

did the theoretical analysis
that showed that

if water is released
anywhere on the moon,

some of it will end up
being trapped

in the permanently shadowed

Permanently shadowed regions
don't exist on Earth

because our axis is tilted,

casting sunshine onto both
of Earth's polar regions

at different seasons
over the year.

But the moon is different.

Because the moon is only tilted

a degree and a half
relative to the sun,

the sun is always coming in at a
grazing angle at the lunar poles

and over the course
of a lunar day,

which happens to be
28 Earth days,

the sun will travel around
in a full circle

but always stay
at a grazing angle.

This is because the sun
never shines straight down

onto the moon's poles.

And thanks to the moon's
unique topography,

you get conditions
unlike any on Earth.

The moon is a topographic

It has hills and valleys,
that produce

an extraordinary amount
of elevation changes

over very short distances.

That topography

casts very long and deep

particularly near the poles

and sometimes those shadows
are so deep and so long

that the floors of those craters
never, ever see the sun.

It means that they have
very cold temperatures,

almost down to the surface
temperature of Pluto,

which is just incredible
when you think about

how far Pluto is
away from the sun.

As seen on this
color-coded heat map,

temperatures on the moon
vary widely...

Ranging from 260 degrees
Fahrenheit in the sunlight

to minus-280 degrees
in the shade.

But in the permanently shadowed
regions, at the poles,

it can be colder
than minus-400 degrees...

Just 60 degrees
above absolute zero.

Any type of volatile, whether it
be water or carbon dioxide,

is going to be frozen out

and trapped in those cold spots.

The theory suggests
that traces of water

left inside the moon
from its formation,

and ice delivered by comets and
asteroids impacting the surface,

could have become trapped
in these cold spots.

It just gets stuck there.

And it gets preserved,
and it can't escape,

and it's been there
for a very long time.

Permanently shadowed regions are
really exciting scientifically

and also really important

for our future exploration
ambitions on the moon.

But all of the Apollo landings
were near the moon's equator...

Nowhere near the potential
cold traps at the poles.

And the idea that ice may be
present on the lunar surface

may have remained just that...

An idea if not for yet another
ambitious Cold War-era attempt

to trump the Soviets.

In the late 1980s,

the U.S. military is developing
its Star Wars initiative

to protect the country
from incoming nuclear weapons.

One version
of their secretive designs

involves a flotilla
of small satellites

to detect and collide

with intercontinental
ballistic missiles.

Needing an object to test the
satellite's targeting sensors,

the Pentagon chooses...
the moon.

The resulting lunar mission
is named "Clementine."

With its launch
comes an opportunity for NASA

to participate.

Due to its military nature,
mission control is located

out of sight in a non-descript

Nicknamed "the Bat Cave"...

In downtown Washington D.C.

Planetary scientist Ben Bussey
undertakes the task

of constructing a new atlas
of the moon

assembled from
the mission's images.

A lot of the Apollo data
were in an equatorial orbit,

where essentially you go around
the waist of the moon,

where the astronauts landed.

Whereas because with
the Clementine

we wanted global coverage,

Clementine was in what's called
a polar orbit,

which is where
if you picture the moon,

it's going like that,

so it goes over both poles
every couple of hours.

Such a flight path
could give scientists

their first opportunity
to search

for the permanently shadowed
cold traps...

Predicted to exist at the poles.

By bouncing Clementine's
communication signals

off the moon's polar regions,
a bit like a radar pulse,

the mission scientists

hope that any ice might show up
by reflecting the radio waves.

As data pours into the Bat Cave,

everyone is glued
to their screens.

It was in the floor
of Shackleton Crater,

inside that
permanently shadowed crater

that they saw this signal
was consistent with buried ice.

On March 12, 1996,

the Pentagon summons the press
to reveal their discovery.

Well, yes,

the answer is we think
we have found ice.

This is an indication

that living on the moon
might be possible.

You may be looking

in this photograph,

of possibly the most valuable
piece of real estate

in the solar system.

The discovery of water ice

on the moon re-ignites dreams

of harnessing space resources
for a lunar base.

But how much water
is really there?

And could it be harvested

In 2008, as NASA prepares
to launch

the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
to image the moon,

a change of plan requires a
different rocket for the launch.

The new vehicle has the power
to carry almost a ton

of extra payload to the moon.

Can they use that extra capacity

to take a closer look
at the water ice

Clementine glimpsed?

The opportunity

piques the interest
of Anthony Colaprete,

a young planetary scientist
at NASA's Ames Research Center.

We said, "Okay, what if we crash
something into the moon

and we looked at the ejecta?"

I called up Pete
because he's the guy you go to

if you want to crash something
into another body,

planetary body,
he knows impacts.

And I thought,

"Oh, yeah, bash something
into the moon?"

Well, this was something
that was going to smash through

to an area you couldn't see

in the cold traps.

By crashing an object
into the moon,

they hope to observe lunar
material ejected from the impact

and determine if it contains

So we came up with the idea of,

"Why don't we use

the spent upper stage
of the rocket

that was pushing us
to the moon?"


by using part of the rocket
itself as the impactor,

they can then use
the extra payload space

for a separate spacecraft
carrying instruments

that will follow
a few minutes behind,

recording the impact
at close range,

and hurriedly sending its data
back to Earth,

before smashing into the moon

Such a complex mission

is hard to pull off
with such little time,

but the rewards...

Should they succeed...
Will be huge.

I was really intrigued

and I knew that
we could do this,

but the idea of actually
using a spent rocket,

that was almost like crazy talk.

Anthony and Peter calculate

that they would need to create
a debris cloud

at least half a mile high

to stand a chance
of detecting any water.

To test the feasibility,
they turn to a trusty tool

from the Apollo era.

This facility is

the Ames Vertical Gun Range.

It's a large vertical gun

used for firing projectiles
into targets

to study cratering processes.

We have a battery
of high-speed cameras,

going up to a million frames
per second.

We can look at it
from different locations,

just be able to simulate,

get a sense of
what we might see.

High voltage is good.

We have ready lights.

Firing projectiles at high speed

into a simulated lunar

Peter and Anthony spend months
trying to figure out

what the impact plume
might look like.

Stop, stop!

Go backwards.

That's the projectile
coming down.

Okay. Pow!

The idea behind
these experiments

were to get a better handle
on getting enough material

into sunlight
from that deep hole.

If we didn't get enough
material, we were dead.

LCROSS launches
on June 18, 2009.

It takes four months
to catch up with the moon

and get into position
for impact.

In the early evening
of October 8, 2009,

the Centaur rocket stage
impactor begins its approach.

All stations flight.

30 seconds
to end of science cal.

With the spent rocket stage
and following spacecraft

now on unstoppable impact
trajectories with the moon,

all Peter and Anthony can do
is watch and wait.

Mark transition to DV mode.

At 3:31 in the morning
Pacific time,

the Centaur hits.

Minutes later,
the shepherding craft follows

and starts collecting data,

rushing to transmit it
before its own demise.

So we had a press conference...

of course, everyone's like,
"Well, what'd you see?

"Did you see water?
Did you see this?"

"How much? How much?"
Yeah, "How much."

Indeed, yes, we found water,

and we didn't find
just a little bit,

we found a significant amount.

In the 20 to 30 meter

crater outcross maybe we found
maybe about a dozen of these

two gallon buckets worth
of water.

Finding so much water

in such a relatively small area
changes everything;

and heralds new excitement
for lunar exploration.

The LCROSS is the most direct
evidence that we have

that there's water at the poles
of the moon.

Recent estimates on the quantity
of water at the lunar poles

are on the order of one billion
metric tons per pole.

That's an enormous quantity
of water.

The discovery of water
on the moon is pretty much

the most significant

discovery that we could have

for the future
of space exploration.

It isn't only a moon base
and orbiting colonies

that would benefit
from a lunar supply of water.

Lunar water could actually
open up the entire solar system

to human exploration...

And that's because
of its unique chemistry.

Water is made
of hydrogen and oxygen combined,

in that famous formula H2O,
and what that means

is that we can split it

to release the hydrogen
and the oxygen.

Let me show you what I mean.

What I've got here is a beaker
and you can see that it's got

two beautiful carbon electrodes
sitting in it.

Plus we've got two test tubes
which are going to allow us

to collect things.

And what we're going to do is
we're going to do electrolysis.

As they say
in all good monster movies,

"Turn up the power, Igor."

As the electricity starts
to flow through the circuit,

the positively charged hydrogen

is attracted
to the negative terminal,

and the negatively charged
oxygen to the positive terminal.

And so what we can see

is myriad bubbles coming up,

of course, twice as much
on this side as the other.

We're splitting H20
into hydrogen and oxygen.

Two hydrogens.

One oxygen.

The beauty of hydrogen
is the fact that you can burn it

with oxygen and what you get

is an incredibly hot flame.

In other words, you're going
to produce huge amounts

of really hot gas
that can push your rocket.

But if we want to get an idea

of what's actually
in that test tube,

then what I think we should do
is to actually set fire to it.

I'll get some safety glasses on.

And what I'm going to do

is I'm going to take that tube
out of the water.

And now what I need to do
is to light it.

And you get that
beautiful squeaky pop

that's characteristic
of hydrogen.

This is good stuff.

Two, one, zero, and lift off!

It's such good stuff

because as the hydrogen
reacts with the oxygen,

almost all of it is converted
to water,

releasing huge amounts
of energy.

Hydrogen and oxygen, together

they're the most efficient
chemical propellants known.

The Space Shuttle main engines

burned hydrogen and oxygen;
many rockets today,

the Delta IV rocket
uses hydrogen and oxygen.

It's kind of the fuel of choice
for high-energy rocket stages.

So mining lunar ice

could provide water to drink,
air to breathe,

and a source of propellant
for spaceships

to fuel up and head out.

A source of propellant

outside of Earth's gravity well
is incredibly important

because it then lowers the cost
of everything else

that we want to do.

Being able to refuel in space
is incredibly useful,

it's a game changer.

It would lower the cost
of a Mars mission

by factors of two or more.

And my message
to senior officials at NASA

is that that ought to be
the first thing we do

in our return to the moon plan.

It's one thing for governments

to subsidize the search
for water ice on the moon,

but quite another to bankroll
the construction

of a rocket fuel factory
in space.

To accomplish that
would likely take

more than just a promise of
profits in the distant future.

That space economy

time and time again
has proven not to be

a compelling enough
economic draw

to motivate governments
to spend the kind of money

that's required
to make it happen.

That's why, to me, the key
to going back to the moon

is making access to space

more affordable, more routine,

for us to become
a truly space-faring species.

Fifty years after
the first moon landings,

NASA has its sights set

on getting back to the
lunar surface more affordably,

by sharing the cost
with commercial partners.

Ignition and lift off
of the Falcon 9

to the Space Station.

Now NASA can say,

"Well, we saved money
by hiring private companies

"to go to the space station,

can we do the same thing
on the moon?"

In 2018, NASA announced
a new commercial program

where the agency would buy
flights to the moon's surface

from private companies.

Nine U.S. businesses
are now competing

to return America to the moon,

funding most of the effort

One of them is Pittsburgh based

Some of the biggest challenges
when we first started

was to figure out

how do we fund this thing.

Flying to space is expensive,

buying a launch to space
is expensive.

How do we generate the dollars

to go and make this thing

Finding potential customers

to build a sustainable
lunar landing business

means Astrobotic needs to create
a market for its services.

When we first started

there was no market
for payload delivery

to go up to the surface.

We had to show people,

"Here's how it works,

here's what you can do
on the surface of the moon."

Everything from rovers

that can drop and drive off
into the distance,

to science experiments,

to magnetometers
and radiation detectors,

and even infrastructure...

All of the parts and pieces
of the future lunar economy.

With no business demand
on the moon yet,

Astrobotic's services

have mostly attracted customers

who simply want to deliver
personal items to the moon.

But one national space agency
has also signed up...

Mexico's A.E.M.,
which plans to use Astrobotic

to land a package
of scientific instruments.

Space agencies are interested
because they can land

on the surface of the moon
with us

and actually have
a lunar program

for a fraction of what it costs

the superpowers 50 years ago.

Once we land on the surface
of the moon,

we become the local utility,

we provide power
and communications

for the payloads
that come with us.

Whether such a business model
can sustain

Astrobotic's lunar ambitions
remains to be seen.

They haven't even reached
space yet,

let alone landed on the moon.

It's not easy doing this
on a budget.

SpacelL, another small company,

crashed their $100
million moon lander

during an attempt to land
in April 2019.

Landing on the moon
is still hard.

Until recently, only Russia and
the U.S. had accomplished it.

But in 2013, China joined
this exclusive club

when it's Chang'e 3
lander touched down;

followed by Chang'e 4
in January 2019,

which made the first landing in
history on the moon's far side.

In the coming years,

robotic landers from India,
Japan, and Europe

are also scheduled to attempt
to reach the lunar surface.

First you will find countries
that want to access it

driven by being the first ones
to be there.

That's going to be
a period of excitement

that we now
are back on the moon,

that we are now landing there.

But eventually,

you're gonna have to find
a reason

why you want to stay there,

and this is where
resources of the moon come in,

because now you have
a justification of,

"Now we can use these resources
that will sustain an outpost."

Current lunar exploration
is still funded

primarily by governments,

but if the cost
of getting there drops,

then the promise of
so many resources to exploit

could trigger a new space race...

One not driven by politics
but by profits.

And that raises important
new questions

like who owns the moon?

The ethical question is:

who would have access
to these resources?

It is only those countries
that can launch rockets

and extract them?

And how are those
other countries

that do not have
this capability,

how are they going to benefit
from that?

The U.S. position
has clearly been that

the U.S. will recognize
resources that are developed

by its nationals.

They will recognize that as
the property of those nationals.

But there are others saying,

"You can't commercialize,
you can't exploit,

because you have no ownership

So, half of the world will take
a hands-off approach and say,

"Let's see where it goes,"

and then start to regulate.

Today it's the United Nation's
Outer Space Treaty

that sets our legal framework
for working beyond Earth.

But it's never been tested
to address the idea

of space resources.

While the legality of mining the
moon remains open for debate,

NASA continues its efforts
to make exploring the moon

technically feasible,

and the agency hopes
others will join them.

Now has come the time for us

to return American astronauts
to the moon.

In March 2019,
Vice President Mike Pence

committed America to reaching
the moon once again.

Last year,
NASA and American innovators

began designing

the Lunar Gateway.

And we are rallying the world
to join us in this vital work.

The Lunar Gateway, will
orbit the moon as a spacecraft

and allow astronauts
to shuttle back up and down

from the surface,
performing research.

That is going to have

a component that's a
public-private partnership;

sharing the costs
and the benefits of its work,

not just with
commercial partners,

but also with other countries
along the lines

of the
International Space Station.

By pioneering a human return
to the moon in this way,

NASA hopes to create a market
for businesses

that seek to provide
lunar services.

But will it work?

Can NASA's next step

back to the moon
become a giant leap,

literally, for all humankind?

If this is just
the same partners

as the
International Space Station,

then we haven't really
progressed far.

What has to be recognized
right now

is that there are over
65 countries who are investing

over $10 million in space,

and most of them are developing
in emerging countries.

So who's going to be invited
to the table?

What does that mean

for participation in something
like the Lunar Gateway mission?

The Lunar Gateway mission
is not the only program

under development for getting
humans back to the moon.

Some visionary U.S. companies

are also pursuing
their own avenues...

although it's not always clear

where hype ends
and reality begins.

In 2018,

Elon Musk's rocket company

introduced its first
fare-paying lunar passenger...

Japanese entrepreneur
Yusaku Maezawa.

Thank you, Elon.

Thank you, everyone.

I choose to go to the moon!

Elon Musk has sold a ride
on his next rocket,

to a Japanese billionaire

who wants to take
a dozen artists

on a cruise past the moon.

It sounds ludicrous, but then

let's say that
private companies say,

"We have learned how to go to
the moon and bring tourists."

Then you might have habitats
being built

and permanent life on the moon.

Inspired by a time when humans
last lived on the moon

and we dreamed
of moving humanity into space,

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos,

is also building his own road
to the moon

through a company he founded
called Blue Origin.

Let me show you something.

And they already have a plan

to put a large lander down
on the lunar surface.

This is Blue Moon.

We've been working on this
lander for three years.

It's time to go back to
the moon, this time to stay.

I feel that there's
enough energy,

and more importantly money,
going towards this

that we will see real
exploration in the years ahead.

The vision of all these plans
is ultimately to set up

lunar bases, where explorers,
including the first women

to reach the moon, can live
and work for extended periods.

There will, of course,
be many challenges,

as one man who's already lived
there can tell you.

The living conditions
on the moon will be very similar

to living conditions
that I experienced.

They're going to need
the consumables

that are necessary to survive...
Oxygen, water...

All of which can be supplied
by the moon.

So I think the resource issue
is not a major one.

They're going to need an
aggregate of individual habitats

from various launches
here from Earth initially.

Before very long,

I think we'll be manufacturing
habitats on the moon;

converting lunar dust to actual
materials and components.

In anticipation,

a team of engineers
at NASA's Kennedy Space Center

is already building experimental
robots for such assignments.

The group is known
as Swamp Works.

Rob Mueller is NASA's
senior technologist there.

NASA's Swamp Works

is an innovation environment.

It's a collection of labs where
we develop new technologies

in order to have revolutionary
advances in space.

Construction on the moon

a radically different approach
from doing it on Earth.

On Earth, when you want to dig,
you get a big, yellow machine

that weighs a lot and you push

and you have enough reaction
force to dig

because of the gravity on Earth.

The problem is,
when it arrives on the moon,

its actual weight
is one-sixth of that.

The gravity on the moon

is one-sixth of the gravity
on Earth.

So, because it doesn't weigh
very much,

there's no reaction force,

it can't penetrate the soil,
it can't pick it up.

Unfortunately, we cannot launch
a giant bulldozer into space

on a rocket, it's too expensive.

So, we had to reinvent
excavation, reinvent digging.

We scratched our heads
and-and thought about it,

and we came up
with a new design,

which has counter rotating
bucket drums.

The forces cancel each other out

and now you can dig
with a very small robot.

Their new moon rock digger...

Called RASSOR...
Is put through its paces

in Swamp Works' lunar surface

It turns out that
the lower gravity on the moon

is not the only challenge.

As the Apollo astronauts

moon dust itself poses
a serious problem.

The particles are jagged.

In fact, in the Apollo missions,

when they put the gloves
on the suit, there was a joint,

and that glove lasted
three days.

So, we have to find ways
to cope with this

sharp, jagged dust
that sticks to everything.

To keep machines functioning
in this harsh environment,

Rob and his team
are developing a novel way

to fix broken equipment.

If RASSOR is operating and it
breaks a wheel, what do you do?

Our answer to the logistics
problem is don't bring it,

make it there.

What we've done is we've taken
the local crushed rock,

and that gives you a way
of 3D printing a structure.

3D printing a spare wheel
on the moon.

It's a very crude wheel,
but it's a start.

Constructing replacement
equipment with local resources

may prove essential

if a moon settlement
is to be self-sufficient.

And while Swamp Works' digger
still needs to prove itself

on the moon,
one day machines like it

could be working
alongside humans

to construct a lunar base.

But there may be a simpler way
to live on the moon...

That is, if we're willing
to live in the moon.

One of the most fascinating
discoveries in recent years

are these sinkholes,

giving us a view down into
a lava tube.

Lava tubes form
when volcanic eruptions

continue for long enough
that the top layer of lava

cools and solidifies...
Allowing more molten lava

to continue flowing beneath it.

Much of the moon's surface

is covered by lava flows,
and in some cases

you can actually see evidence
of where they may have flowed

inside lava tubes.

People are really interested
in these

because future human explorers

could have that be a location
for future human habitation

on the moon.

Could these natural cave systems
in the moon really offer shelter

to future astronaut explorers?

We're yet to discover
what's inside them,

but exploring similar tubes
here on Earth might offer clues.

Tommaso Santagata is mapping
lava tubes on Mt. Etna,

one of the most active volcanoes
on Earth.

I use 3D mapping instruments

to analyze the shapes

inside these caves,

in order to compare this data
with caves on the moon.

Lidar works with a laser

and this measures
about three million points.

This laser turns around in 360

and it creates a 3D map
of any environment.

By correlating sink hole

to the size and shape
of the caves

they open into here on Earth,

scientists hope to be able
to determine

which sink holes on the moon
could be the best candidates

for future lunar exploration.

By studying a sink hole
we could estimate the dimension

of the lava tube below,

and we can draw a map
of the lava tubes by dot-to-dot.

On the moon we know that

probably there are caves

that are more than
100 kilometers long.

With the potential for hundreds
of miles of tunnels

just below the moon's surface
offering natural protection

from the harsh lunar

subterranean shelters
might one day

become our first homes
on another world.

It's quite dark here
in the shadow...

A little hard for me to see
that I have good footing.

Fifty years ago,
Neil Armstrong's first step

onto the moon's surface taught
us that anything is possible.

Well, Neil Armstrong,

when he was first on the moon,
said it has a stark beauty

all its own.

And so, yes, in one sense
you can think of it

as just a barren rock,

but I also just love
the beauty and excitement

of future human exploration
on the surface of the moon.

Being outside the spacecraft
for the first time

looking around this
magnificent valley we were in,

deeper than the Grand Canyon,

with brilliantly illuminated

and a blacker than black sky,

and the fact that you're there
seeing it

and that human beings
have put you there,

really, it gives you
a lot of confidence

of what we may be able to do
with our civilization

in the future.

In the years after we left
the lunar surface,

most of us forgot
about exploring the moon.

But in the last decade,
since LRO reached lunar orbit,

NASA has shown us
a new view of the moon,

which has made us look at it
again with new eyes.

It has a stark beauty
all its own.

It's different...
But it's very pretty out here.

I really believe that the focus

should be on creating
an equitable environment

here on Earth

where everybody has

to imagine themself one day
doing high-tech science

that can take them to the moon.


Beautiful view.

Ain't that something?

Magnificent sight out here.

Magnificent desolation.

I think it's important
to work on space exploration

because it has implications
for civilization.

It's very rare that you
can work on something

that will affect everybody
on Earth.

It's a grand challenge.

I would love to see the day

when people can go outside
and look up at night

and see the lights
of a lunar base.

That'll be an incredible moment
for the human species

when we can look up at the moon
and know that there

is a branch of humanity
that's there.

So close, but so mysterious.

Venus... Earth's less fortunate

And today a scorched hellscape.

What went wrong,
and are we next?

The sun dictates our fate.

"The Planets: Inner Worlds."

Coming soon on "NOVA."

Major funding for "NOVA"
is provided by the following:

To order this "NOVA" program
on DVD,

visit ShopPBS
or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

This program is also available
on Amazon Prime Video.