Johann-Dietrich Wörner, who became the ESA director-general in 2015, foresees that a Moon base is inevitable after the International Space Station (ISS) is allowed to plummet from the sky and into the Pacific Ocean in 2024.
While the ISS is only accessible to the five public space agencies that built it (ESA, NASA, and the space agencies of Canada, Russia, and Japan), Wörner foresees that a Moon village to be available to anyone.
"It's not like the International Space Station, which is more or less restricted to the club [of public agencies]. The Moon village idea is an open idea, free and open access," he said in the Paris press conference.
Some have proposed building the lunar colony underground, as large tunnels where lava once flowed decorate the interior of our planet's only natural satellite.
The privatization of space exploration has seen primarily American and British companies move spaceflight away from the nation states which drove it throughout the 20th century. At present, numerous teams are competing for Google's $30-million prize to be the first to land a privately-owned spacecraft on the moon. The current frontrunner is Moon Express, which has raised $45 million to meet the Google challenge.
Notably absent from the ISS agencies is China, but one of Wörner's key initiatives as director-general is to promote international cooperation between space agencies. In a 2016 visit to China, he said that "space is beyond all borders so let's also have the cooperation beyond borders."
As for the United States, incoming President Donald Trump has promised to "refocus [NASA]'s mission on space exploration." He may take a cue from his supporter Newt Gingrich, who famously pushed for a moon colony during his failed 2012 presidential bid.
In 2015, the United States congress passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, meant to support and regulate private space companies working on goals such as passenger space travel and asteroid mining.
Many believe that an off-Earth colony would be beneficial, as terrestrial catastrophe looms ever-closer. In a 2010 interview with Big Think, famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet."
Although the ISS has just seven years left in its lifespan, work behind a functional lunar colony would require a massive investment of both time and capital. It is unclear when such a project could be accomplished.
No human has walked on the Moon since the final manned Apollo mission in 1972.