Astronomy

The Matanuska Colony a Model for Lunar Development



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Not everyone thinks we should colonize the moon. Some cite the expense, the danger, and the waste of resources aimed at space. Surely, enough troubles on earth call for immediate attention, some say.

The Matanuska Colony faced, and faces, similar criticism. It was a project of the New Deal, one of many such projects intended to help the hard-pressed while it helped the economy recover. It sent farm families from the upper Midwest to Alaska to found new homesteads.

It was an expensive project. It cost five million dollars, exceeding its original estimate by more than four million. Government projects commonly go over budget, just as home remodels do, because of unforeseen contingencies, goofs, and changes of plan. It's a good bet that something similar would happen with a government lunar colony budget.

People died in the colonization of the Matanuska Valley. Winters were harsh (though so are Minnesota winters), and times were hard. It is possible that these families would have lost members anyway, but how hard to lose loved ones so far from home.

In some ways, the colony succeeded. Descendants of some of the original families, a few, still live in the Matanuska Valley. A few colonist families on the moon would be enough to give earth a first foothold in space. Probably this small project, and the many others like it, gave hope to the struggling many in dark times. Probably a colony on the moon would lift some hearts on earth.

In some ways, the colony failed. Colonists returned to Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan, knowing they weren't up to the task, or telling tales of government failures, distant markets, high costs, and unforgiving conditions that punished the slightest miscalculation.

Whether it is the best use of earth's resources or not, chances are humans will once again stand on the moon. Intelligent and focused individuals are bending their efforts that way. Whether adventure novels read in childhood motivate them is another story. Someday there will be a colony attempted on the moon. Someday, I believe, there will be permanent settlers in space.

If the planners of moon settlements study the Matanuska colony, they should compare the families that stayed to those who left. They should also study the traits that distinguish settlers from explorers, and workers from dreamers. There should be a mix of each in a colony on the moon. Perhaps not at the very beginning, however.

Expectations should be matched as closely as possible to realities before the colonists go. Perhaps they could practice, at the poles, in the desert, or underwater. Tools and equipment should be ample, as they were not in the Matanuska Valley. Settlers should commit to building, not just a new colony, but a new world.

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