for Rosenberg Publishing
Sydney, Australiw (SPX) Apr 12, 2010
Robots are coming to a Moon near you very soon. Aside from a new fleet of orbiters, some will be landing within three years. There will be rovers deployed on the Moon, and sample return missions. This new wave of missions is brought to you by the governments of the USA, China, India and a collection of private ventures.
With so much attention focused on revisiting the Moon, it's time to re-explore a basic task that's never really been practiced before. Can we work effectively with the lunar regolith?
Any serious talk of working or staying on the Moon includes ways of using lunar materials to our advantage. In its most crude form, this means shoveling lunar soil on top of a lunar base, to protect it from radiation and meteorite impacts. Other uses would be more sophisticated, such as making concrete from the soil, or refining the soil to extract metals, oxygen and other useful things.
Landing areas for spacecraft would need to be built, free from the debris that's normally kicked up by rocket exhaust. Berms of lunar soil would protect fragile structures from nearby launches and landings. We may even want to dig deep underground, to bury certain items.
All of this sounds simple in theory. Just take a big shovel or some type of construction gear, and dig. But is it really this straightforward? We don't properly understand the mechanical properties of the regolith, dust and rocks. We don't know how well equipment and techniques that work well on Earth will perform on the Moon.
During the Apollo missions, astronauts were surprised by the behavior of the lunar soil. It adhered quickly to their spacesuits and equipment. The regolith was also more difficult to penetrate than mission planners had suspected. Planting a rod for a flag was tricky.
During an attempt to drill a core sample, Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin apparently suffered a minor cardiac problem, according to biometric telemetry.
We will need to gather more data on the handling of lunar soil if we want to do anything ambitious on the Moon, and the best way to do it is with machines, long before astronauts return.
Some private companies are already proposing small robotic lunar dump trucks, which could excavate and move the soil. Over a long period of time, these could steadily build up large structures. But how long would it take, and how effective would it be? That's not known right now.
Doing something as simple as getting a robot to build sandcastles on the Moon would be a step forward. It would be an exercise in mechanical engineering, and a test of how disturbed regolith behaves.
Can we make lunar bricks by fusing the soil with heat? Is it better to build up a berm of raw soil, then "cook" the exterior for strength? These are also unresolved issues.
Other tests we need to perform include placing radiation dosimeters under artificial lunar mounds, to test their shielding properties. Firing mortar shells or pellets at structures would also simulate meteorite strikes.
These questions can only be answered with a lot of missions, and a lot of testing. It will take time, but it needs to be done. Without this knowledge, we will never be able to use the Moon to its full advantage.
Dr Morris Jones is the author of The New Moon Race, available from Rosenberg Publishing.
Share This Article With Planet Earth
Mars News and Information at MarsDaily.com
Lunar Dreams and more
ESA plans its first moon lander
Paris (UPI) Apr 1, 2010
The European Space Agency says it is seeking industry proposals for a lander to be used in an exploration mission to the moon's south polar region. ESA scientists said that lunar area's possible deposits of water ice, heavily cratered terrain and long periods of sunlight make it an extremely interesting target for astronauts' moon missions. The space agency says the lander will n ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|