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.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus9 min readScience
The Hidden Warning of Fall Colors: Did autumn reds and yellows evolve to repel insects?
Drifting above North America in the autumn of 2014, a NASA satellite named Terra partook in some high-altitude leaf peeping. In an aerial photograph snapped that September, swaths of orange and red saturate the green landscape, as if igniting the pla
Nautilus14 min readScience
An Existential Crisis in Neuroscience: We’re mapping the brain in amazing detail—but our brain can’t understand the picture.
On a chilly evening last fall, I stared into nothingness out of the floor-to-ceiling windows in my office on the outskirts of Harvard’s campus. As a purplish-red sun set, I sat brooding over my dataset on rat brains. I thought of the cold windowless
Nautilus11 min readPsychology
The Cultural Distances Between Us: Mapping the world’s psychological traits.
If you ask Siri to show you the weirdest people in the world, what images might you see? In fact, none. Siri showed me different links to the same scientific paper, published a decade ago, with the questioning title, “The weirdest people in the world