Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Building A Lunar Base: Problems And Solutions

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Aside from the sun, the celestial object that is the most familiar to kids and adults alike is the Moon.

While other planets and moons may offer a more exciting environment, our second journey towards the stars will probably begin with our lunar friend in the sky, in part due towards its distance from Earth.

However, if humanity ever decides to dwell upon lunar soils, they will have to figure out a way first to survive upon them.

(Universe Today) So where do you start when designing a Lunar Base? High up on the structural engineers "to do" list would be the damage building materials may face when exposed to a vacuum. Damage from severe temperature variations, high velocity micrometeorite impacts, high outward forces from pressurized habitats, material brittleness at very low temperatures and cumulative abrasion by high energy cosmic rays and solar wind particles will all factor highly in the planning phase. Once all the hazards are outlined, work can begin on the structures themselves. [...]

The actual construction of a base will be very difficult in itself. Obviously, the low-G environment poses some difficulty to construction workers to get around, but the lack of an atmosphere would prove very damaging. Without the buffering of air around drilling tools, dynamic friction will be amplified during drilling tasks, generating huge amounts of heat. Drill bits and rock will fuse, hindering progress. Should demolition tasks need to be carried out, explosions in a vacuum would create countless high velocity missiles tearing through anything in their path, with no atmosphere to slow them down. [...] Also, the ejected dust would obscure everything and settle, statically, on machinery and contaminate everything.

With all of these problems presented challenges, it is quite evident that space is not a place for either cowards or the foolish (as dying in the final frontier is not exactly healthy for the body).

While a complete lists of hurdles towards colonization will probably expand as we gather more information about our little lunar sister, here are some helpful solutions that may ensure that we are able to inhabit the moon, let alone revisit it.

  • Vacuum and temperature variations: NASA and Russia have probably had the most experience dealing with the issues (after all the International Space Station is a perfect example) so this may not be a worrisome issue lunar side.

  • High velocity micrometeorite impacts: With the moon lacking a noticeable atmosphere, space rocks raining down from on high could easily spell the death of a lunar base (let alone a colony).

    Inflatable buildings (Bigelow style) may be the solution towards ensuring that we survive on the surface, although building a basement underground probably would not hurt as well.

  • High outward forces from pressurized habitats: Inflatable buildings (or habitats) may solve this dilemma, something Ian O'Neill expands upon over at Universe Today.

  • Material brittleness at very low temperatures: Again, NASA (and other space agencies) probably have this issue pretty much wrapped up (as those Martian golf carts, among other examples are a testament to).

  • Abrasion by cosmic rays and solar wind particles: This will probably be the most difficult, although like any building on Earth, lunar habitats will have to be constantly maintained in order to ensure their safety.

  • Drilling and digging underground: With the lack of atmosphere on the Moon, drilling may become useless, especially when lunar rocks begin to meld to the drill bits used to pierce the lunar surface.

    One solution is to enclose a fairly large area with an inflatable structure, pump it full of air (perhaps via oxygen extracted from lunar dirt) which would help reduce the friction from massive moon digs.

  • Lunar Dust Love (contamination via static): Since lunar dust could pose a problem to both man and machine, and finding a way to remove it is critical towards establishing a beachhead on Luna (aka the Moon).

    Lunar vacuum cleaners could solve this dilemma, helping to ensure both carbon and silicon life enjoy their stay one light second away from home.

Even though humanity may not have the technology to implement solutions to all of these problems above, they can take the necessary steps to create defenses against these solar show stoppers--thus ensuring that our species survives its first step towards conquering the final frontier.

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  1. Very good post. I would imagine that being underground would be pretty safe on the moon especially from radiation and micrometeorites, it would be good for sensative structures and important structures such as power plants, of course unless they were solar plants.

    We simply need to identify the problems/hazards of the venture and then get to work on the solutions and we will be there before too soon.

    The Fool

  2. Thank you for featuring my article. Great to see it in context and linked with other concepts. When writing about inflatable habs, I didn't think about linking it with Bigalow designs... In addition, if you are interested in seeing a collaborative effort toward working toward a design for a moon base, take a look at the established "lunarpedia.org", a great resource.

    Loving the site btw, will be keeping an eye open for your posts :-)


You can either visit the stars or watch them from afar.

But if you choose the former, you'll definitely get a better view.

~Darnell Clayton, 2007

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