Nautilus

Andy Weir Visits the Moon

World building is the best part of writing,” Andy Weir tells me. The software engineer turned writer is getting his practice in. In his 2011 novel The Martian, he built a Mars base, complete with carefully calculated Earth-Mars rocket schedules and chemistry-hacked potato farming. It was made into a 2015 hit movie grossing over $600 million (“I live in a bigger house now,” he tells me).

We get to see Weir’s newest creation this month with the release of his new novel, Artemis. The action is set on a lunar city in the not-too-distant future, which Weir calculated as much as imagined. He estimated the cost of reaching the moon from Earth by assuming a future commercial launch industry that will reach the efficiencies of today’s airlines, then combining those numbers with an obscure and complex Earth-moon orbit called the Uphoff-Crouch Cycler. He wrote a 10-page economic analysis constructing the future lunar economy, whose currency, the slug, is based on the cost of transporting one gram from the Earth. He referenced modern-day nuclear power plant designs in determining the base’s energy production and consumption budget.

“The total time that passed by while I was working on Artemis, just the city, was like a year,” Weir says, “although not all of that year was spent working on it.” During our conversation, I needed to remind myself that he is a novelist, and not a scientist designing an actual base. Still, his message is clear and convincing: that a lunar base should be built before any other off Earth, and that doing so is getting surprisingly close to feasibility.

A 1990 NASA sketch of a modular lunar outpost whose hardware focuses on crew health.

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