Landing mobile bases on the moon is an idea whose time has come, according to a NASA researcher.

Lunar bases that can travel on wheels, or even legs, will increase landing zone safety, provide equipment redundancy and improve the odds of making key discoveries by enabling crews to visit many lunar sites, according to Marc Cohen, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in California’s Silicon Valley. Cohen recently presented his concept in a research paper at the 2004 American Institute of Physics Forum in Albuquerque, N.M.

“If you set up a base at a fixed location on the moon, you are very limited in the sites of scientific interest that you can reach,” Cohen said. “What it comes down to is if you’re landing a habitat on legs and wheels, it doesn’t take a lot more investment to make it highly mobile, provided you have enough energy resources that would enable it to travel great distance across the moon with or without the crew onboard,” Cohen explained.

Linked mobile moon habitats might travel like treaded trains without tracks, or they could cross the moonscape in a line like Conestoga wagons crossing the American West. Walking or rolling habitats could dock to one another, or circle close together, when they reach a rest or research site, according to designs suggested by engineers over that last three decades, Cohen noted.

In contrast, a common scenario for exploration of the moon is that one or more astronauts would travel to a remote site in a pressurized or unpressurized ‘rover.’ An unpressurized rover trip would only last hours because the astronauts would be in spacesuits for the entire trek. A pressurized rover could sustain astronauts for a much longer trip, lasting days or weeks.

More here.