Catacombs Moonbase Alpha Operational Guide


The Moon has a sixth of Earth's gravity, no air, no water, and a day that lasts a month during which extremes of temperature and radiation are experienced. Survival depends on being totally sealed from these conditions, in an artificial copy of Earth's environment: a spacesuit, a space craft, or a lunar base.

Two thirds of the personnel of Moonbase Alpha are to some extent concerned with the maintenance of their environment. The life support system is designed to be modular and resilient. Duplicate systems, backup facilities and decentralisation provide flexibility for maintenance and expansion, and insurance against failure.

The Main Power Unit manages the power generation and gravity systems. The Life Support Complex, a section of the Main Power Unit, manages the food, water and atmosphere processing and circulation systems. System monitoring is largely automatic, controlled by the X5 Computer, a distributed processing network. Main Mission has ultimate control over all Alpha systems.

The Medical Section operates a Space Healthcare Programme to evaluate the effects on human psychology and physiology of the artificial environment in the base and the external influences from space. Particular concern is addressed to the early detection of radiation sickness, the spread of viral and bacteriological disease through the small, confined community, and "greensickness", a psychological condition related to stress in the enclosed, artificial surroundings.

6.1. Raw Materials

Most Moonbase life support systems rely to a large extent on recycling materials. However, no recycling system can be 100% efficient, especially such a small system as Alpha. New materials must be obtained, and lunar rock can provide them. Heating the surface regolith and basaltic rocks in electric furnaces provides aluminium, magnesium and titanium for construction, silicon and gallium for electronics, and oxygen for air, water and fuels. Everything from concretes and ceramics to textiles can be produced from the rocks. Particularly valuable minerals that have been found include tiranium, milgonite and dylenide. These are mineralogical varieties of rutile and illmenite which contain interstitially clean forms of titanium and are thus highly efficient in cold fusion processes.

Mining is largely in surface excavations, with surface exploration teams surveying the lunar geology for sites of particular mineralogical interest. Underground mining is carried out in the catacombs beneath Moonbase Alpha. At present water usage rates, including for fuel, it has been estimated the reservoirs of juvenile water under the crater floor will last for another eight to nine hundred years.

6.2. Power

The considerable power requirements of Moonbase Alpha are met by various sources, but most is supplied by four fast breeder fusion reactors. The Main Power Unit houses the largest reactor, capable of supplying two thirds of Alpha's energy. Nuclear Generating Areas Two, Three and Four are smaller top-up reactors which are only brought up to maximum capacity to meet exceptional power demands and cover during maintenance.

The solar energy plant, built by SOLA, a consortium led by Space Sciences Inc, can supply almost half of Alpha's energy needs at noon during the lunar day.

For smaller local requirements solar batteries on surface buildings, nuclear batteries and cold fusion units can provide supplementary power.

Power distribution is controlled by the Main Power Unit. The most important section of the MPU is the Life Support Complex, managing the food, water and air systems. The base is still too small to justify decentralising energy management, though there have been criticisms of vulnerability and even the danger of sabotage of the so-called life support cores. The cores are two high endurance cold fusion units which power the emergency shutdown system. If either is removed without the proper cut out procedure the fail safe system assumes a catastrophe has occurred and shuts down all the reactors. If this happened without adequate prior warning the reserve power is sufficient for only thirty minutes to an hour until all life support systems are irreparably damaged. Because of this possible threat, both cores, in the MPU reactor control room and in the Life Support Centre, are closely guarded by security personnel.

6.3. Gravity

Long term space missions have shown microgravity has a gradually deleterious effect on the human body, notably through bone decalcification. Special diets, drugs and exercise can reduce the effects, but even the one sixth gravity of the Moon causes some slow deterioration. For convenience and health artificial gravity fields are a necessity.

The Yasuda graviphoton effect uses cold fusion devices to generate directional antigravity fields highly localised within about two to fifty metres. It is in essence a small and very simple form of Wilding field. These Yasuda units are used in spacecraft to provide internal gravity for crews, and their inertial effects also provide a radiation screen, shielding against high energy subatomic particles and electromagnetic waves, and enhance propulsion. Moonbase Alpha uses the interaction of eight overlapping fields, produced by towers in a ring around the base. The cross-linked field is powerful enough to resist large masses when at maximum output, and should provide an effective meteorite shield.

6.4. Atmosphere

Alpha's oxygen is derived from lunar rocks, broken down in electric furnaces. In the base it enters a recycling system based on three Recycling Plants using algae, which are also in the food cycle. Individual areas, like spacecraft, have the capability of being self contained, using electrochemical recycling units. These areas can be individually depressurised. Single rooms can be automatically sealed in the event of pressure loss or air contamination. Sections of the launch pad and Eagle hangar areas are designed to be routinely depressurised, as are the airlocks in these areas, and the twenty airlocks to the lunar surface around the base. Technical Section has two atmosphere laboratories and two vacuum chambers for testing and research purposes. Standard atmosphere is a 20% oxygen, 80% nitrogen mix at 1 kg/cm2 pressure, though the oxygen proportion is raised for safety in certain situations.

The standard spacesuit atmosphere is pure oxygen at 0.3 kg/cm2, and personnel should breathe pure oxygen for at least three hours before this. The spacesuit chest pack has a small compressed oxygen tank sufficient for 15-20 minutes, and the back pack has 400 litres of cryogenic oxygen, giving a maximum endurance of some 8 hours. Spacesuit lockers and emergency bottled oxygen are strategically located around the base.

6.5. Food & Water

The production of water and food is closely associated with the atmosphere systems. The two water purification plants recycle all waste waters, including that reclaimed by the heat exchangers from air humidity, and the juvenile water from the Plato reservoirs. Carbon dioxide is photosynthesised into oxygen by algae in the food production and recycling plants, and by higher plants in the Hydroponic Farm Areas. Most food is processed from the protein rich algae which are grown in the three Recycling Plants, which have the capacity to feed the entire base. However, up to 40% of production usually derives from the two Hydroponic Farm Areas, where wheat, rice, soybean, and a variety of vegetables are grown. Seven smaller Hydroponic Units grow other non staple crops on an experimental basis, including coffee, barley and even flowers. Several of these areas use real soils, prepared by pedogenic soil organisms from lunar regolith, rather than hydroponic beds.

The Protein Store contains seed stocks as insurance against the failure of any Hydroponic crops. A small fish farm and a small poultry flock are maintained. These are the only animals on Alpha, apart from ten doves in the Recreation Areas and experimental rats and mice.

The Food Processing Area processes algae into more palatable forms. Food is prepared and served from the kitchens of four Restaurants. Vending machines are distributed throughout the base, and many Recreation Areas have catering facilities which can be booked by staff.

6.6. Addenda

A number of changes to systems described in this section have occurred since the breakaway.

Power distribution has been interfered with a number of times, including the life support cores in the MPU, by Commissioner Simmonds, and the Life Support Centre, by the Beta Cloud creature. The system has been redesigned so the the shutdown procedure executed in this event has controlled delays.

To resist the black sun, Professor Bergman adapted the gravity towers to produce a strong forcefield effect. This reduces energy absorption to almost zero, theoretically allowing almost infinite energies to be reflected. Though calculations suggest it should have failed in practice, the forcefield worked, negating the force of the black sun.

Manna, an edible fungus-like plant which can grow in sterile dust, was discovered on the lunar surface when the planet Ariel gave the Moon an atmosphere. It is rich in second class proteins and many vitamins, and it is highly prolific. It is now widely grown as a food crop in the larger areas of the catacombs. These crops and the processing plant have to be secure and guarded, due to widespread abuse of the hallucinogenic properties of the unrefined plant which occurred soon after crops were established.

© Martin Willey