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Tsukimen Kichi Ichigou: The Japanese moon colony

(generally called the "usagigoya," or "rabbit hutch:" a pun on its cramped nature and the Japanese folktale of the rabbit in the moon)

Construction of the Japanese moon base, officially "Tsukimen Kichi Ichigou" (literally, Moon Base One) was begun in 2060, as the second major Japanese space effort following the space station (2054-58). In addition to providing a permanent settlement for the development of lunar resources, it was planned from the start to serve as a supply center for materials required to build a Japanese colony at L-4.

The base site was on the pole, designed to take advantage of known ice deposits. A suitable crater near the future ice mine was found and christened Reimei (dawn) Crater.

The original moon orbiter was injected into a low, circular orbit at 30 km altitude, with orbital precession gradually "walking" it around its polar axis once every 28 days, so that the orbit exactly matched the day/night line. In other words, the orbital facility was directly over the terminator at all times and the station's solar arrays enjoyed constant solar illumination.

The orbital period was 111 minutes at 30km, velocity 1.665 km/s. To leave the ground and meet the facility (and vice-versa) required a basic 1.4 MJ per kilo (about 5% of the energy needed to get to LEO from earth). The orbital facility was equipped with low-capacity tugs to start. The ground base began with half a dozen rocket shells caught by the tugs and deposited on the lunar surface to serve as habitats.

The orbital facility, 30km above the mean surface, tears around the moon at Mach 5. It's a tall T-shaped structure, gravity-stabilized it so that it rotates once per orbit (and thereby keeps the base of the T permanently pointing towards the center of the Moon). At the bottom of the T is a large hemispherical transparent dome, with a zero-gravity hotel viewing room there.

Seen through the dome, 160 degrees of sky - nearly a full hemisphere - is the Lunar surface. One half of this is pitch black - and only at the very rim of the dome on this dark side can you see any stars. Now and again, within the solid black area, a light can be seen, marking the site of some mining base or prospecting vehicle. Right across the middle of the dome is the terminator, and it's instantly clear that the facility is tearing along it, at about a mile a second. Some peaks, their bases still in shade, catch the sun at low angles, and the rims of craters glisten in the dawn or dusk of a lunar day (depending on which part of the orbit you're on). A final massif moves across the dome, more craters hurtle past, then you're over a Mare - smooth, flat, dark-gray basalt, looking like set concrete, pock-marked with the occasional shadow-filled bright-rayed crater. Then a light on the horizon in the direction you're traveling, catches your eye. It's about 320 km away (as is the horizon in all directions), but within a few seconds it's clear that it's the nearest peak of a range of foothills, leading up to another range of mountains. Within a minute these, too, have dragged themselves over the horizon. Within three minutes of first spotting the hill, it's underneath you, and away...

By 2062 there were 48 permanent residents, and an additional 20 to 30 personnel transferring in and out regularly. The moon orbiter had been upgraded to a transfer facility, and its tugs had been complemented by large-capacity tugs based on the moon's surface. Prospecting was well under way, and underground construction was slowly being advanced (heavy-duty equipment did not arrived until late 2062). The occasional moonquake caused Japanese engineers to prefer the underground construction option to above-ground structures, which would have been susceptible to solar radiation.

A number of capital-intensive structures were erected in rapid succession, namely

  1. massive solar cell arrays. Although these only operated during daylight, they generated massive amounts of power which was stored in underground thermal tanks for later use. They were complemented by
  2. a fusion reactor, which went online in 2063 in an excavated underground facility some distance from the base itself. Between the two, the moon base was free of all power insufficiency problems, and was able to begin considering transmitting power to other facilities on the moon, or even back on earth.
  3. the first underground barracks (2062), later to be expanded into the large city Moonbase one is today. These were initially linked to the surface through airlocks removed from spacecraft, and were kept airtight through a functional polymer spray developed specifically for the environment. The polymer was manufactured on earth until 2064, on the Japanese orbital space station until 2066, and on the moon itself after that point.
  4. the linear acceleration catapult. Construction was begun in 2061, and the catapult system became capable of launching light (<1000 kg) loads by 2063. The system was gradually expanded until it reached its present 4300-kg capacity in 2072. This catapult was used to provide material for the construction of the initial Japanese station at L-4, beginning in 2063. It is still used today by the Mitsuboshi Starframes L-4 Plant. The catapult has a total track length of 26 km, with a cargo launch force of 5g (33 seconds). A second catapult was planned by Mitsuboshi Starframes to launch at 10g (17 seconds, track length of 14.1 km), but it was never completed.
  5. an open pit mine. Located about 2 km from the base itself, this open pit mine was set up to procure the iron and titanium required for construction of the L-4 station. While the largest deposits of both metals lie in the equatorial mares of nearside, polar deposits were sufficiently large to make open-pit mining economically possible, and provide all the material needed for L-4 construction. Long-term planning foresaw the construction of a second lunar base in the equatorial region, with the polar base to handle exclusively ice mining, but this plan was also eventually scuttled.
  6. an ice mine. Situated about 3.5 km from the base, the ice mine was a high-priority development because it assured the base of oxygen and hydrogen: essential for both breathing and fuel. With the addition of carbon from other sources (initially imported, later lunar and finally asteroidal), Japanese synthetic chemistry was able to fabricate most of the polymers needed to fulfill local manufacturing requirements.

From about 2063 through about 2075 the moon base experienced its "boom years." There was considerable corporate and government investment into development of lunar resources, and massive expansion of the base itself. The original plan called for a multi-ringed underground structure divided into six segments, and by 2075 three of these segments were completed and the remaining three partially so. There were also to be two ship landing facilities with a central elevator capable of dropping the ship down into a room which could be pressurized for shirtsleeve operations. Only one of these facilities was ever completed, although the excavation for the second was performed.

In 2076, however, the president of Mitsuboshi Shipbuilding Corporation (later renamed Mitsuboshi Starframes Corporation) announced that the majority of its mining operation would be transferred from the moon to the asteroids, with the construction of a new asteroidal mining facility. As Mitsuboshi directly or indirectly accounted for about 35% of total cashflow at the moon base, this was a massive blow. The Japanese government met with Mitsuboshi and requested cooperation, but Mitsuboshi refused, claiming that it would be unable to fulfill orders for starships without the asteroidal input. It did, however, make the decision to continue to purchase specific types of raw materials from the moon, and continues to maintain a small office there now for that purpose.

As the effects of the Mitsuboshi decision rippled through Japanese society, and it became apparent that the real potential lay in the asteroids and beyond, more and more firms followed the path pioneered by Mitsuboshi, and by 2084 the cash flow of the moon base had dropped to about a quarter of what it was in 2075.

The population plunged, and government services and personnel were cut back as there was less need for them. Large numbers of affiliated firms and service firms had come to the moon base during the boom years, however, and were now trapped there, many without sufficient capital to purchase tickets elsewhere. While the government guaranteed them welfare payments, food and other essentials for survival, they had no place to go and little hope for the future.

By 2085, the population had dropped from its high of 14,236 (2075) to only 4,300, of which only 44 people were employed directly by the government or earth-based corporations. Eight of these were employed at the Lunar Resources Development Organization (LRDO), a government agency established by the Japanese government in 2061 and funded directly from the national budget.

From about 2080, however, the number of security hirings grew rapidly, as the base management employed local labor to enforce base security. By 2085, the base security force numbered 37 people itself, although all but two of them were on government rolls as contract workers rather than employees. This figure had roughly doubled to 80 people by 2086, and again to 153 the following year.

The standard of living plummeted in many ways. Though food, air and water were provided by the government for a minimal tax (which was waived for citizens on welfare), many sections of the underground city were no longer maintained. City gangs began to spring up, staking out their own pieces of turf. Residents seeking security gravitated toward the innermost ring, which was well protected, while those seeking freedom moved into the wilderness in the third and fourth rings. The outer ring, contained massive machinery required to maintain the base and process raw materials, was largely untouched by mutual consent: destruction here would mean the death of all, and even the most violent gangs were well aware of the fact.

While Moonbase One was never officially closed, it had essentially vanished from public view by about 2090, and has never come back. It remains today the equivalent of a shanty town on earth, gradually decaying and still shipping material to Mitsuboshi Starframes. The Mitsuboshi office at the moon base is occupied by a single man, and the once-proud LRDO is now a dead-end station for government employees who have offended the wrong people.

The Japanese government has continued to fund essential services, unable to pull out because of the large resident population and the enormous economic burden it would place on transport, relocation, and physical and social rehabilitation efforts. In spite of official government support, however, more revenue, people and construction are here due to various illicit activities than official (or even recognized) efforts. Needless to say, the residents have little love of the Japanese government or indeed any earthside government.

While the government census shows little activity, however, moon base is extremely active in the sections not maintained by base management: This is "Za Mura" (the village), and home to every variety of criminal and illicit activity known to Man. Smuggling and gun-running are two of least offensive hobbies here, and the political environment is a constantly-shifting chaos as new leaders emerge, claw their way to the top of the heap over the bodies of their competitors or by cutting themselves into a piece of the action with new partners, only to fall themselves to yet newer contenders.

Note: The much-heralded Lunar Polar Hotel, once the envy of socialites across the globe, is today a capsule hotel: transfer passengers may rent a cubicle measuring 1 meter across, 60 cm high and 2 meters long, with a mattress on the bottom, and a telephone/terminal at the head, for a minimal fee: the perfect place to wile away those hours until the ship comes in. The Lunatic's Lounge, with its stunning view of the moon's surface, however, is open 24 hours a day, free of charge.

Original moonbase planned layout

Actual moonbase layout (2303)

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