AS space agencies prepare to return humans to the Moon, top engineers are racing to design a tunnel boring machine capable of digging underground colonies for the first lunar inhabitants.

''Space is becoming a passion for a lot of people again. There are discussions about going back to the Moon, this time to stay,'' US-Iranian expert Jamal Rostani told AFP at this year's World Trade Congress in Naples.

The administration of US President Donald Trump wants NASA to put humans back on the Moon by 2024, and the agency is also drawing up plans for a ''Gateway'' station to serve as a platform for astronauts travelling to and from the lunar surface.

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are among those feverishly competing for military, civil or commercial launches, with Musk's Space X leading the race on building rockets ready to fly in time.

But the harsh conditions on the surface of the Moon mean that, once up there, humans need to be shielded from radiation and freezing temperatures in structures which maintain atmospheric pressure in a vacuum.

They also need protection from meteorite strikes.

''Imagine something the size of my fist as a piece of rock coming at 10-12 kilometres [ 6- 7 miles]  per second, and it can hit anything and would immediately destroy it.'' Rostami said at the meeting in the southern Italy.

''So every plan for having a habitat on the moon involves making a trench, creating a structure and covering with some sort of  regolith, which is the soil on the moon.

''Our idea is to actually start underground, using a mechanism we already use on the earth, a tunnel boring machine, to make a continuous opening to create habitats or connect the colonies together,'' he added.

Analysis of images of the lunar surface show lava tubes capable of housing large cities underground, said Rostami, director of the Earth Mechanics Institute at the US Colorado School of Mines. [Agencies]

The honor and serving of the latest operational research on Moon Colonies and Future, continues.


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