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NASA Wants Fast Moonbuggies and Solid Lunar Lander

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the sounds-like-a-dream-i-had-one-time dept.

Moon 117

coondoggie writes "NASA may have its eyes on the Sun and Mercury this week but it is clearly focusing on the moon for the future. NASA is soliciting proposals from the scientific and aerospace communities for design ideas for its next lunar lander. NASA officials said the Altair spacecraft will deliver four astronauts to the lunar surface late during the next decade. According to NASA Altair will be capable of landing four astronauts on the moon, providing life support and a base for weeklong initial surface exploration missions, and returning the crew to the Orion spacecraft that will bring them home to Earth. And while they won't be flying to the moon but rather flying around the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala., the space agency has set April 4-5 as the dates for 'The 15th Annual Great Moonbuggy Race'. The race is for high school and college teams where they build and race their lightweight, two-person lunar vehicles. More than 40 student teams from 18 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada and India have already registered." My proposal just features a domo-kun mouth and giant pink ears attached to an El Camino. Money please!

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117 comments

NASA Wants Fast Moonbuggies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22068498)

Use a MoonSUV

Re:NASA Wants Fast Moonbuggies (4, Funny)

C0rinthian (770164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068524)

Only if it's called The Crushinator.

Can you name the truck with four wheel drive... (1)

blueboy31 (822804) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070986)

I don't know how well it runs in an oxygen-less environment, but the famed Canyonero [stlyrics.com] is my recommendation. They have an F series, how about a M (Moon) series?

Better than that, what they need (4, Interesting)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068530)

Is an automated drilling/mining/processing plant. There are mineral deposits up there. If we could go up there and have the materials made on site, so we only needed to set up the base, a long term moon base would be fairly cheap.

Energy certainly wouldn't be a problem, with every day sunny.

Re:Better than that, what they need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22068592)

Next step: Total Recall

Re:Better than that, what they need (3, Informative)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068666)

A lunar day is 28 earth days and is only sunny 50% of the time.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068778)

so the plant only works half time until it has enough materials to make a wire to other solar cells to give it a longer energy input time.

Also, if it was made near a pole, and vertical solar panel were used...

Poles (1)

michaelepley (239861) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069030)

True, which is why you put it at (or rather very near to) one of the poles, which happens to also be a great place for astronomy. And a few clicks away in any direction is 28 day light/dark & earth shielding for other purposes.

Re:Poles (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070718)

The areas which actually have eternal sunlight are actually very, very small. They are also at a very, very acute angle to the sun - which means either very inefficient solar collectors, or a very large amount of structure to hold them at a better angle.
 
The advantages of being at the lunar poles are vastly overstated.

Re:Poles (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#22073974)

which happens to also be a great place for astronomy

Huh? How would be at the poles be any good? You'd only ever get to see 50% of the sky, it won't shield you against the Earth as well as the rest of the hidden face of the Moon (which is the place to go for radio-astronomy) and errr.. what are the advantages again?

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069088)

yeah, but for that 50% you have guaranteed sunlight. Since the solar flux will be similar to Earth's it should be around 1 kW per square meter, right? It should be fairly straightforward to design a heat containment system that can capture sufficient energy during the daytime, to operate during the dark period and keep temperatures in a reasonable range.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22070024)

Actually, because Luna has no atmosphere, the solar irradiance is closer to 1400W m^2.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

riseoftheindividual (1214958) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071082)

Vanadium batteries might also be useful.

Well Duh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22073872)

A lunar day is 28 earth days and is only sunny 50% of the time.
,br> Funny, it's sunny 50% of the time on Earth as well. Oh, and Mars, and Venus, and Jupiter, and pretty much any other rotating body. Strange how that works out.

Re:Better than that, what they need (4, Interesting)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069186)

Unfortunately, such things are not as easy in real life as they are in star trek. Have you seen even small processing operations here on earth? Even when you know exactly what you're working with, it has a high percentage of what you want, and the wheat is easily separated from the chaff, it takes a large piece of rather expensive machinery to accomplish it. Wheat and chaff case in point: a typical John Deere combine weighs about 12 tons. All it does it cut wheat, seperate the kernels from the heads, and dump the straw out the back. And it needs gas and air in sufficient quantities to produce about 200 hp to operate. Obviously that's a high volume farm implement, not an optimized space tool, but I stand by the basic point.

Think about what that extensive mineral utilization entails. You're limited by what's up there. The lunar regolith is mostly aluminum oxide, silica, and some calcium, with trace amounts of various gasses like hydrogen and helium. Suppose then you want fiberglass. That's an easy one. You suspend the regolith in a liquid and separate the silica from the alumina based on density. Then you melt the silica and blow it out of a fine nozzle to form strands. Unless you can figure out how to do it in a vaccuum, however, which is plausible, you need a gas to blow it, either brought from earth or boiled out of the regolith.

That right there is five primary subsystems:
1.) Power
2.) Regolith collector
3.) Silica separator
4.) Furnace and fiber machine
5.) Gas storage and/or production.

But fiberglass is all but useless without epoxy, and making fiberglass parts is a messy, complicated job here on earth. You'd be crazy to stake the success of your lunar base on the ability for a self deploying robot to produce useful and quality controlled parts on the moon. Not to mention, all you've got at that point is structural parts, which are only a fraction of the mass of supplies you need.

You could look at the same needs for producing aluminum. It gets really interesting when you start looking at the mass of equipment needed to produce sheet aluminum out of cast ingots. The raw aluminum itself is very energy intenstive to produce, requiring 7.5 kW-hours of electricity per pound to reduce from alumina in high volume smelters.

And I'm not even going to get started on what it takes to make complex shapes like a pressurized habitat or a seal for an airlock.

All of this is why NASA is looking at landing all the needed supplies on the moon and practicing the techniques with human involvement from the start. The first supplies produced will probably be oxygen (which can be electrolytically separated from the silica, alumina, or small amounts of ice present on the moon), and bricks for radiation protection and insulation sintered from the raw regolith.

Start simple. As you show you can make useful items from simple processes, then you add complexity.

Re:Better than that, what they need (4, Interesting)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069566)

Too many people see problems as insurmountable: While things certainly aren't as easy as in Star Trek, special case solutions can be productive:

> a typical John Deere combine weighs about 12 tons.
Yes, but how many tonnes per day does it output? If you don't need that kind of output, it can be smaller.

> And it needs gas and air in sufficient quantities to produce about 200 hp to operate.
Due to that being the cheapest method to get it functioning on earth. With more reliable solar energy, you could skip the gas and air on the moon for any processing task which electricity is physically capable of handling.

> Think about what that extensive mineral utilization entails. You're limited by what's up there. The lunar regolith is mostly
> aluminum oxide, silica, and some calcium, with trace amounts of various gasses like hydrogen and helium.

And several areas with notable high quantities of other elements, including but not limited to potassium, carbon, iron, and magnesium. There are places where the high concentrations of these are actually fairly close even.

> Suppose then you want fiberglass. That's an easy one. You suspend the regolith in a liquid and separate the silica from the
> alumina based on density. Then you melt the silica and blow it out of a fine nozzle to form strands. Unless you can figure out
> how to do it in a vaccuum, however, which is plausible, you need a gas to blow it, either brought from earth or boiled out of
> the regolith.

Spin the container, quickly. There are many ways to apply pressure.

> That right there is five primary subsystems:
> 1.) Power
Solar
> 2.) Regolith collector
Plenty of machines would work for this, being a generic digging tool, possibly with some instrumentation to ascertain rough
composition.
> 3.) Silica separator
This could probably be automated, but I wouldn't know the specific process.
> 4.) Furnace and fiber machine
Again, run it on electricity, the process shouldn't be that hard.
> 5.) Gas storage and/or production.
Why? Not necessar at all.

Here's a good example of what *COULD* be done.

A small solar "digging" rover. It doesn't need to be fast, just reliable. It diggs regolith, and puts it in a bin.
The bin, once sufficiently full, will close up and heat up. The aluminium and oxygen can be separated. The aluminum, melted, could then be released (possibly through a mechanism designed to pump out plates.
The oxygen? Bring up some high tolerance balloons to store it.

Similar processes could be used to make glass.

Given the regolith composition will be known, a couple simple visual and pressure sensors should be sufficient to get the aluminum out reliably. Next time up, the astronauts just need enough material to assemble the (preferrably thick) aluminum sheeting into a shelter. It doesn't completely eliminate the weight requirements for a shelter of that size (they'll need nitrogen, heating mechanisms, food, etc.), but it will greatly reduce the required weight to make it.

Not knowing exact compositions up there, other things could potentially be made as well. A lot of simple, but heavy-lift work should be automatable.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069758)

Don't forget: "And I'm not even going to get started on what it takes to make complex shapes like a pressurized habitat or a seal for an airlock."

a pressurized habitat does not have to be a complex shape, and BRING THE DOOR FROM EARTH. Just because 99% of the product is domestic, doesn't mean that you can't bring the 1% that would be really hard. It would definitely simplify things for astronauts could show up, install a door, and pressurize, instead of having to build the entire structure.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069932)

This year on Luna, the biggest (and only) BYOD party ever!

(Bring Your Own Door)

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071698)

Tickets available through Ticket Master or at the... uh... door?!?!

Re:Better than that, what they need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22072338)

Most people don't realize this because we've got the infrastructure built up on earth over the last century to make them by the millions, but a cylinder is a complex shape from a manufacturering standpoint. Even a piece of sheet metal is non-trivial to produce, but it's a lot easier to make with a 50 ton, purpose-built metal roller operated by a trained monkey than with a remote-controlled or autonomous multi-purpose robot.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070296)

It's always easy when all you do is handwave. Real Life is rather messier than you think.

Re:Better than that, what they need (2, Interesting)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070574)

True, but we've gotten tech where we can deal with a surprising amount of mess. There are more than a few easily locatable projects that have gains some success in lab trials for automated processing in lunar conditions.

The point is not to have it build everything (requires a lot of handwaving), but to prevent us from having to move a lot of heavy stuff from the earth to the moon (thus saving a lot of cost, and not really requiring handwaving).

Re:Better than that, what they need (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070820)

Tech in these areas is much less advanced than you assume it to be.
 
Do I really need to point out that lab trials are a very long way from actual equipment? And that we haven't got any equivalent machinery on earth that functions like this - despite decades of trying?
 
In so far as weight goes - the bare structure (which is all than can be expected to be produced, even with hurricane strength handwaving) is the lightest part of the base. The equipment you'll have to launch to produce it will weigh at least two orders of magnitude more than the material they will produce. That is, unless you want to spend a couple of decades building the base... but equipment reliable enough to do that without manned intervention isn't anywhere on the horizon. Getting the equipment reliable enough to last a month is going to take an incredible effort.

It's all about scale... (1)

AnomaliesAndrew (908394) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070616)

The parent mentioned a key point, as far as I can tell.

"Combines" on Earth are made as big as possible to maximize output for given labor. This would not be necessary (at first) in space, and as such extremely small and slow devices could be used.

Grain cultivators might be huge, but my Lawn Boy can mulch, and it runs all summer on about 4 gallons of gas with no maintenance! Sure, mining, smelting, and forging metals is a little more extreme, but it's all about scale. Given that efficiency (like cost per labor unit) is not a concern, and rate of production also is not, surely a suitable compromise can be met.

Obviously, it's a bit cheaper to send unmanned missions into space, so you'd want to send the equipment up on its own, ahead of a manned mission to meet up with it. The modules could be designed to target the optimal lift/cost. Final assembly could be carried out automatically or by humans, in orbit or on the moon, at which point weight would be less of a concern.

Am I the only one who sees a self-sustaining materials and manufacturing infrastructure on the moon as being worth any cost today? Without it, we'll never realize our sci-fi dreams of colonizing off the planet.

Even if it took a day to process a very small amount of material, it's still a lot more material than we currently produce there. Use those resources to produce more resource gathering capacity, and from that point, it should snowball.

It would be the dawn of the lunar-industrial age.

Re:It's all about scale... (3, Insightful)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071288)

Am I the only one who sees a self-sustaining materials and manufacturing infrastructure on the moon as being worth any cost today? Without it, we'll never realize our sci-fi dreams of colonizing off the planet.

This is true. I agree with this part. However, everytime the topic of ISRU comes up, I see plenty of armchair engineers talking lightly about applying it from the get-go at very, very advanced levels, and it's clear they haven't given any real thought to what it takes to achieve the sort of results they're talking about. One of the posters above, for example, dismisses building a pressure vessel for a habitat as fairly elementary. That first of all neglects the point about structural mass actually being a minority of the payload needs for a moon base, and secondly shows an ingorance of the large and specialized tooling needed to build such components here on earth. How much can that infrastructure actually be shrunk down, made lightweight, or made multipurpose by simply sacrificing productivity?

As I said, I agree if we're going to live in space truly long term, we need to learn to use the resources out there. Once we reach the trade surplus point, we'll have reached that dream of the lunar-industrial age. But it seems like everyone is assuming with a little clever engineering we can do that right now. That's not so. It will take a herculean amount of engineering, testing, re-engineering, failing, succeeding, and taking baby steps to get there.

That's why the first resource utilization will be simple things. Once you've established a baseline competancy, it's easier to add on to it than to do the whole thing all at once. It also leaves you in a better and less expensive position to react to problems or unanticipated supply or demand changes.

On the point about sending unmanned missions first. That is actually part of the plan. NASA decided last year they should identify several targets on the moon of scientific interest and send short "sortie" mission similar to the Apollo program there. At the same time, they would also pick a site for a permanent base and land equipment there in advance of a crew. Right now it looks like two missions to send power, basic supplies, and a basic habitat. Then short manned mission to get everything set up. This would be followed by a longer missions with stuff like ISRU equipment, a pressurized rover for long exploration missions, and additional living/science facilities.

Re:It's all about scale... (1)

guruevi (827432) | more than 6 years ago | (#22073608)

Well, NASA (and other agencies) seem to enlist a lot of these armchair engineers lately in what is called contests for a prize and they have been highly successful (more than the in-house development over the last few decades).

What some of the armchair engineers here at /. seem to forget (and maybe a lot of them outside of /. too) is that the Moon doesn't have an atmosphere like earth and thus is constantly bombarded with small and large projectiles (that's why it's so much crater). Those projectiles range anywhere from (comparison) a bullet to a shotgun over to boulders (once in a while) and such things are highly unpredictable. So if you build any type of glass/metal structure (automated or not), I guess by the time you're done constructing you can start over again in the beginning trying to patch up. Also: we build houses here on earth and every single time, something goes wrong, is late or broken even with the best architects and contractors. Transfer that to a space where you can't readily replace your workers and where any mistake could result in a very cruel death (choking, starving, ...) for people.

Re:Better than that, what they need (2, Informative)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072692)

Here's a good example of what *COULD* be done.

A small solar "digging" rover. It doesn't need to be fast, just reliable. It diggs regolith, and puts it in a bin.
The bin, once sufficiently full, will close up and heat up. The aluminium and oxygen can be separated. The aluminum, melted, could then be released (possibly through a mechanism designed to pump out plates.
The oxygen? Bring up some high tolerance balloons to store it.
If it's so easy, let's see you do the same thing on earth.

You do realize you're talking about dissociating alumina and storing the molten aluminum, right? Inside a lightweight vehicle? 1.7 MJ/mol binding energy? Melting point of 2054C? (There is a reason that Aluminum used to be more expensive than gold.) Even the commercial aluminum extraction process requires dissolving the alumina in molten cryolite (sodium hexafluoroaluminate) at 980C and requires pre-extraction of the aluminum oxide from the other minerals present (which usually involves a multistep process using a sodium hydroxide solution) How much cryolite, sodium hydroxide, and water are you transporting to the moon?

At best you are talking 50 MJ/kg (14 kW hours/kg) for an industrial scale plant. I doubt you could achieve anywhere close to that in small scale. So if you were willing to pay the cost to get the international space station's solar arrays to the moon, you could extract a block of aluminum a foot on a side each day. Assuming you didn't want to do anything else with that power, of course. Like extract the oxygen (which formed an oxide with elements in the cryolite during the aluminum extraction process). Or the silica (which is disolved in the sodium hydroxide solution).

But as I suggest, do try this at home so you can show us how easy it is.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069714)

NASA has been looking into self-replicating lunar factories since at least 1980. http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/AASM53.html [islandone.org] presents a proposal for a 100-ton "seed" factory that could replicate itself in one year, using 5-10 tons (per replica) of "vitamin" components supplied from Earth. (For comparison, the Apollo lunar lander delivered ~25 tons to the lunar surface.) We now know much more about the lunar surface, so some parts of the proposal need to be tweaked, but MIT has been running workshops on self-replicating equipment for the past several years; it should be possible to get such a factory built and delivered with minimal effort.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070048)

Indeed they have. Now, see each one of the arrows in this graph [islandone.org] ? That's an entire industrial process, few of which are particularly simple. See each of those inputs? Each is an entire mining operation and/or recovery circuit from another mining operation. See all of those "C"s, "F"s, "N"s, "P"s, and "H"s? Those are in incredibly miniscule quantities on the moon.

Getting the picture of the scale that's being talked about?

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072698)

I'm not sure what your point is. The graph is from the paper I cited, and the authors go into some detail on how the various sub-processes will fit together. Yes, those "C"s, "F"s, "N"s, "P"s, and "H"s are only present in miniscule quantities on the moon, but a robotic manufacturing operation won't require large quantities of them to self-replicate. After a few years, you'll have dozens of self-repairing facilities operational, and then you'll shift to producing consumables for human tourists.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072954)

Won't require large quantities? Where on Earth are you getting that from? H is part of "H2O", as in all of the bulk acids and solutes used in the process. C is an essential component in a number of the industrial processes use. F may be the most critical component, as it's through hydrofluoric acid reductionleaching that they propose to extract metals. N is part of NH3 (more H), also used in the critical leach process. And so on. And recovery of gasses is hard enough even here on Earth; it'd be even harder on the moon. As for how rare these elements are, we're talking ppm quantities, all less common than, say, strontium is on Earth, and without any evidence of clustering in particular regions like we have on Earth that lets rare things like copper be economically mineable (the moon is much more uniform). Of those minerals that they show as inputs, some have never been found on the moon even in trace quantities. These aren't "optional"; they're required for the industrial processes. And even if all of these can be found on the moon as a whole, the odds of them all being in the same region of the moon are tiny.

Re:Better than that, what they need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22070450)

Ah, but have they made anything that works?

Fusion research has been going on for decades too, but no one is close to building a break-even tokamak. Just because something has been researched for a long time doesn't mean that the problems have been solved. AI researchers finally developed some humility and acknowledged that some AI problems were so hard that they couldn't predict when they would ever be solved.

And for space equipment, it needs to not only work, but be darn near perfectly reliable. Sending a repair technician will be expensive at best, impractical at worst.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072862)

The paper goes into much detail, but little AI will be required. Most of the time, the machinery will require no more AI than an auto assembly line; when more intellegence is required, humans would teleoperate the equipment in much the same way that we currently control the Mars Exploration Rovers.

The initial seed factory was designed with two copies of everything vital, and will spend its first year building itself out before it attempts its first replication. Again, I point to the examples of Spirit and Opportunity, operating for four years now in a much harsher environment.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071842)

(For comparison, the Apollo lunar lander delivered ~25 tons to the lunar surface.)

The Apollo Lunar Module massed about 15000 Kg, including fuel. What actually landed on the moon was pretty close to 7000 Kg.

If it had been designed purely for dropping a payload on the moon, the payload would have been comparable in size to the Ascent Module, which massed about 4700 Kg.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

vrmlguy (120854) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072612)

The Apollo Lunar Module massed about 15000 Kg, including fuel. What actually landed on the moon was pretty close to 7000 Kg.
My bad. I misinterpreted this quote from the paper: "100 tons is a credible system mass in terms of foreseeable NASA launch capabilities to the lunar surface, representing very roughly the lunar payload capacity of four Apollo missions to the Moon."

If it had been designed purely for dropping a payload on the moon, the payload would have been comparable in size to the Ascent Module, which massed about 4700 Kg.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, but according to Wikipedia, the Saturn V delivered about 47,000 kg to lunar orbit. That's 51.7 tons. Using the same ratioo as the LM, that gives you a bit over 24 tons landing on the moon. Also note that each mission delivered more mass to orbit than its immediate predecessor (each trip stayed longer and brought back more rocks, and NASA started shipping lunar buggies as well). So while my interpretation was off, the number still looks reasonable.

Re:Better than that, what they need (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069946)

This poster is dead-on. There's a "long tail" for almost everything produced by human society today, things ranging from consumable parts or fluids for mining and processing equipment to all sorts of random chemicals that can be involved in the process. And each of those parts and chemicals has their own long tail.

Look at aluminum. The above poster was kind enough not to mention all of what you need to convert aluminum ores like bauxite into aluminum. Let's assume bauxite. First, you have to mine it, then crush it, likely in multiple stages, down to powder (Insert Maintenance Long Tail Here). You then wash the powder in a solution of sodium hydroxide (Insert Long Tail Here) to produce soluable AlOH. You then filter out the other components (Insert Maintenance Long Tail Here). You then cool it (on the moon, this would involve extensive radiators) to preciptate out the AlOH. You then filter out the precipitate (Insert Maintenance Long Tail Here). You then heat the AlOH to 1050C (Insert Long Tails For Heat And Furnace Maintenance Here) to drive the water off (Insert Long Tail For Water Recovery Circuit Here). You then cycle the alumina out. The alumina then gets deposited in a hot bath (Insert Long Tail For Heat And Crucible Maintenance) of molten cryolite (Na3AlF6). The cryolite is steadily consumed (Insert Long Tail Here), as is the carbon anode (Insert Long Tail Here); the anode is consumed rather quickly. A tremendous amount of electricity is consumed (Insert Long Tail Here) in the electrolysis. The aluminum settles to the bottom, where it can be drained and sent to casting (Insert Maintenance Long Tail Here). I'm not even going to bother with casting and forging.

Just from a more fundamental standpoint, ignoring the tails of manufacturing the chemicals/products associated with each, where are the consumed Na, F, and C supposed to come from? The moon is very poor in them, especially C and F. You can try for a more closed process (more massive, complex equipment and more maintenance), but you'll never do that great, especially concerning F and C (in the form of various gasseous carbon/oxygen/fluorine compounds). And there's a *lot* more energy needed, too.

It's easy to not see the forest through the trees when considering colonization of moons and planets. Unfortunately, the "forest" in this case is how tightly interlinked almost all of modern human industry is. And you can't just bootstrap it on other planets; you're dependant on it for your survival. You can't just go out with picks and expect to produce enough product to even maintain your survival, or expect to make products in a clay-brick forge that burns charcoal from a nearby forest. Bootstrapping, as we did on Earth, simply can't work there. You need modern industry, and hence have to deal with its limits.

Re:Better than that, what they need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22070674)

This is the way to do it on earth for low cost. On the moon energy is less of a concern than wight or durability. So on the moon you might just ionize everything and then separate by atomic weight.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072670)

Energy also has a long tail on the moon. What's the simplest way you could generate power -- imported solar panels? That'd a staggering import cost just to do our earthbound production methods, let alone to ionize every last atom of your mined ore on the moon. And they're not zero maintenance on the moon -- far from it. The moon is an incredibly "dirty" environment of abrasive, static-clinging dust that gets into everything.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

savuporo (658486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070000)

Look up the work done in Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center, Houston. There is a design for buggy/rover that crawls over lunar regolith and builds a mat of solar cells on the surface. ( Google on Ignatiev, Freundlich, Lunar .. )
Decoded version [innovations-report.com] .
Also dig around on ISRUInfo.com [isruinfo.com] , especially in their conference proceedings [isruinfo.com] sections. There are lots and lots of ideas for designing the hardware to be applicable in small scale missions.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

SETIGuy (33768) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072832)

Look up the work done in Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center, Houston. There is a design for buggy/rover that crawls over lunar regolith and builds a mat of solar cells on the surface. ( Google on Ignatiev, Freundlich, Lunar .. )
I'll look when they build a working model.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071478)

requiring 7.5 kW-hours of electricity per pound to reduce from alumina in high volume smelters.

So we'd be able to get a pound of aluminum per square meter of solar system, per earth day, on average?

Sounds very doable for me, especially if we're not in a hurry.

Still, I'd have to agree that setting up any sort of manufacturing plant on the moon is going to be incredably difficult. Just look at how many different industries it takes to make something so common as an iPod here on Earth, then figure in the complexity of figuring out how to do stuff again in a dust infested low gravity vacuum. When every pound you ship is premium.

I'd think that you'd want to keep it simple, at least at first. A simple digging/extracting/fusing system for creating sealed underground tunnels/chambers for use as a base for the new human crew, for example.

Think about the next, most cost effective item. What can we send to most efficiently reduce the need for further lift? Something like an ability to make solar panels using energy from solar panels would probably be another early example - even if it operates only half the time due to the moon's rotation in relation to the sun, as long as the equipment for making the panels is durable, you can make many more panels from moon materials, increasing the power available, eventually allowing you to start producing something else.

Find a copper deposit, start mining copper for the construction of motors on base, allowing the production of moving mirrors and a solar furnace plant for smelting operations.

These are just ideas, of course. But I think that the trick is to acknowledge that the problem is difficult, yet still look for solutions.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

shdwtek (898320) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069490)

Is an automated drilling/mining/processing plant.
Don't you mean, cheese processing plant? ;)

Re:Better than that, what they need (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070156)

Is an automated drilling/mining/processing plant. There are mineral deposits up there. If we could go up there and have the materials made on site, so we only needed to set up the base, a long term moon base would be fairly cheap.

Actually, we don't know if there are mineral deposits on the Moon, as it hasn't been explored in enough detail to even make a reasonable guess. Anything below the top couple of centimeters is pretty much a complete mystery. On top of which, it is not clear the Moon has gone through the tectonic procesess that create ore bodies on Earth.
 
Insofar as automation goes - let's just say the relevant processes are essentially undeveloped and the known problems quite staggering. It's a sure bet that beyond the known unknowns lies a minefield of unknown unknowns.
 
 

Energy certainly wouldn't be a problem, with every day sunny.

It's only sunny for half the time - the other half is complete darkness. Storing enough energy to keep any significant amount of machinery warm enough during the night, let alone operating, is one of those unsolved staggering problems mentioned above.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070496)

Really [nasa.gov] ? I'm glad there are people who actually looked rather than just answered [nasa.gov] . Aren't you [britannica.com] ?

Beyond that a quick set google searches suggests you can find the following redily on the moon, out of various mineral forms:
Sulfur
Iron
Oxygen
Potassium
Aluminum
Hydrogen
Calcium

fix (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070524)

Firefox didn't copy the second link properly, it should have been this [neiu.edu] rather than a repeate of the first.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070980)

Yes, really. There are also people who have spent time actually studying the issue rather than skimming relevant webpages and handwaving.
 
"Common elements" are not the same thing as "useable ore deposits". If you do a similiar long distance scan of the Earth's surface, you'll find lots of silicates, lots of iron, and quite a bit of aluminum - but 99.9999999% of it is either of too low a concentration to be recoverable without a massive effort, and a similiar percentage is locked up in chemical forms that make it difficult to recover in the first place. (There is considerable overlap between the two sets.)
 
It's not enough to just say 'the stuff is there'.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071118)

Yes, and using web pages on a web forum as an example doesn't preclude me from being someone who's put effort into studing this matter, does it?

One of the reasons many forms of extraction of infeasible is energy cost. Simply put, that's less of an issue on the moon. Reliable solar energy, no cost for land usage, less atmospheric ware on solar panels. Energy can become quite cheap.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071582)

Why do you have such a bug about proving your post that has nothing to do with the article.
To stay off topic, just becuase energy is less of an issue doesn't mean it's not an issue. Sure it might be better but our ability to hardness solar energy isn't that efficient yet. Some processes take gas furnaes some take electric furnaces. A lot take water for colling purposes. Just becuase it's space doesn't mean that getting rid of excess heat is easy esp with no atmosphere. So that raises ew quetsions all our production involes an atmosphere and 1 garvity. Do you know how things will act on teh moons gravity and with no Atmosphere? I know I don't. So all those materials that you need to produce something like Alluminum that was mentioned in a very nice post above. So now we need to ship all that stuff up there? Even with that production plants on earth are not comply automated. You don't think the powers that be wouldn't love to automate their plants so they didn't have to pay wages to employees?

Face it it's still a long way off and not something that NASA can just make work in the near future.

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071608)

Words I spelled wrong in my previous post (Not that I care and may not be inclusive)
furnaes
new
quetsions
involes
gravity
the
Aluminum

Re:Better than that, what they need (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072896)

Is an automated drilling/mining/processing plant. There are mineral deposits up there. If we could go up there and have the materials made on site, so we only needed to set up the base, a long term moon base would be fairly cheap.

NASA's Centennial Challenges is actually funding a competition to extract oxygen from mock-regolith later this year:

http://centennialchallenges.nasa.gov/cc_challenges.htm#moonrox [nasa.gov]

The MoonROx Challenge is designed to promote the development of processes to extract oxygen from lunar regolith on the scale of a pilot plant. These processes have the potential to contribute significantly to the Vision for Space Exploration and space exploration operations.

The MoonROx Challenge is a "first to demonstrate" competition. The team whose hardware can quickly extract breathable oxygen from a supply of lunar regolith simulant using a steady-state process will win the competition.

Sun, Mercury, Moon (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22068640)

NASA has eyes on Sun and Mercury? Why does NASA care about the MySQL purchase? I can see the interest in mercury though - breaking open a thermometer and trying to catch the mercury is fun. As for the moon... I take it this time there's going to be a mini series filmed on some secret Hollywood set. Don't forget to position the prop rocks properly this time -- remember, showing the prop number makes the conspiracy theorists theorize conspiracies. ;)

Re:Sun, Mercury, Moon (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068946)

When they film man walking on the moon they should position a stirofoam cup in every shot.

One word - Land Rover. (1)

Finallyjoined!!! (1158431) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068676)

Is what they need :-)

Doh, two words.

Land Rover Discovery.

Doh, three words.

Go Team Canada! (2, Interesting)

saskboy (600063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068698)

The Shuttle has our first arm, the ISS our second, and the Moon will have Canada's Buggy. Heaven knows we know how to make vehicles for extreme temperatures...

Re:Go Team Canada! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22068802)

Do we though, or do we just buy American or Japanese vehicles that can? It isn't like Bombardier makes anything useful, unless they're going to snowmobile around the moon, or they're going to set up a bunch of train tracks..

Re:Go Team Canada! (1)

saskboy (600063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068880)

"or do we just buy American or Japanese vehicles that can?"

Then our Japanese-bought Canadian Moon-planes will rule the day! ;-)

Rims & Ground FX (2, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068732)

Also a really good sound system for blasting the theme to "2001" at all hours of the night.

Re:Rims & Ground FX (1)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068980)


Is clear the song must be:

Were sailors on the moon
we carry a harpoon

Or I'll go build my own lunar lander! With blackjack! And hookers! In fact, forget the lunar lander! And the blackjack! Ah, screw the whole thing.

Turn in your Geek Card, please. (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069204)

Any geek knows it's "WHALERS" on the moon.

Re:Turn in your Geek Card, please. (1)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069826)

Your totally right..... I don't think Ive had enough coffee yet this morning.

Re:Rims & Ground FX (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22071180)

Unfortunately there will be no sound on the moon.

No room for Bender, huh? (4, Funny)

Big_Monkey_Bird (620459) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068744)

Fine then. I'm going build my own lunar lander. With blackjack, and hookers. In fact, forget the lunar lander and the blackjack. Ah, screw the whole thing.

You... asked for it... (1)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068846)

You've GOT it, TOYOTA!

(Or, just get a Honda 3-wheeler or other model)

Apologies to the Simpsons. (4, Funny)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068852)

Can you name the Moonbuggie with four wheel drive,
Smells like a steak, and seats thirty five?
Lunorero! Lunorero!
Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down
It's the country-fried Moonbuggie endorsed by a clown
Lunorero! Lunorero!
Hey, hey!
Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
Sixty five tons of American pride!
Lunorero! Lunorero!
Top of the line in Lunar works,
Unexplained fires are for the managers of the dorks!
Lunorero! Lunorero!
She blinds everybody with her super high beams
She's a rock-crusin', sand-spuin' drivin' machine
Lunorero! Lunorero! Lunorero!
Whoa, Lunorero! Whoa!

Re:Apologies to the Simpsons. (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 6 years ago | (#22072148)

Sixty five tons of American pride!

Better divide that by about 6.

WTF is up with this summary?! (1)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068862)

For a second there, I think we're going to the moon and setting up camp there for a week via huge aerospace contracts. Next thing I know we're racing dunebuggies around Alabama with college and high school kids.

I just know (1)

clckwrk (1220420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068908)

The lander should be a Bob's big boy.

Either way... (1)

bondjamesbond (99019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068930)

The buggy MUST have a jack for the astronaut's iPod! Oh, and a GPS. Oh, and rims - big 20 inchers.

What do they mean .... (0)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22068998)

... by "next" lunar lander? Everyone knows that the last missions were Hollywood productions on a sound stage.

well.... (1)

emeraldfoxx (1193353) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069118)

I could tell them to go find an old Odyssey dune buggy.....but they may want something a little more "air-tight". I hear its kinda hard to breathe in space....

You mean... (1)

oskard (715652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069136)

That's not what the latest Hummer [jalopnik.com] was for?

Solid Lunar Lander (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069168)

Solid Lunar Lander? I didn't RTFA, but what do they mean by that? I never heard of a liquid lunar lander )or gaseous), or do they mean using solid fuel rockets for landing and takeoff? That seems silly since you want controllable thrust, and luna hasn't got enough gravity that you'd need the SRB's like on the shuttle.

Re:Solid Lunar Lander (1)

LMacG (118321) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069680)

The linked article's headline is almost identical, but says "reliable" instead of "solid." But don't bother, it's just Network World trolling for page hits, AGAIN.

Re:Solid Lunar Lander (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071172)

do they mean using solid fuel rockets for landing and takeoff? That seems silly since you want controllable thrust

Actually, with a bit of cleverness - you only need throttleability for a fairly small portion of the powered phase of landing.
 
One method is using a 'crasher stage' - where you use a large non-throttleable engine to remove nearly all of your velocity at once, discard it, and then complete the landing using a fairly small throttleable engine. NASA's Surveyor landers used this method, as did (IIRC) all of the Soviet landers - all of them with solids. Those were direct landing trajectories, but you could do the same thing from orbit. One crasher to take you out of orbit, and then a second shortly before landing.
 
You can do the same thing on takeoff, use one large unit to get you off the ground and on the general trajectory you want to be on - and then use smaller, throttleable, engines to fine tune your trajectory.
 
 

luna hasn't got enough gravity that you'd need the SRB's like on the shuttle.

The Shuttle needed extra boosters because of its configuration, and SRB's were thought to be cheaper and more reliable than L(iquid)RB's. In a large part, they are - as refurbishing a LRB after an ocean landing would be expensive indeed. (You can fly 'em back and avoid that, but that turned out to be very expensive.) At one complete failure (STS-51L) out of 250 odd SRB's launched, their reliability is not significantly different than liquid boosters.
 
The choice between solid and liquid is a set of complex engineering and financial tradeoffs. Gravity isn't an issue at all - as we can build small solids as easy (in fact - much, much easier) as we do large ones. (I worked with one in the Navy that produced 500lbs of thrust for .75 seconds - you could pick it up in both hands.)

Let's see now... (1)

sootman (158191) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069224)

... you'd need seating for four, and bubble domes so they can see everything... I think I can do this for $82,000. [wikipedia.org]

What I want (0, Redundant)

Nimey (114278) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069250)

Screw moonbuggies and a lunar lander, cool as they are.

I want BOOBIES!

Re:What I want (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22069772)

You know they have doctors who can help you, try here http://www.breastdoctors.com/ [breastdoctors.com]

Does anyone still take this seriously? (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069254)

Haven't seen any support for this latest moon program in the media. None of the candidates ever brought it up except for maybe Hillary. Obama definitely wants to kill it. There have been moon programs for at least 20 years.

It's about time (2, Funny)

Cathoderoytube (1088737) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069326)

Finally, it looks like NASA is investing serious resources into researching sweet jumps in low gravity.

Domo-kun mouth and giant pink ears (2, Funny)

lbmouse (473316) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069368)

Like this one? [picvalley.net]

Dukes of Hazzard type jumps? (1)

vg30e (779871) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069394)

With the reduced lunar gravity, will big jumps be possible?

6 words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22069440)

It is not going to happen.

There are certain factors at work which do not allow us to return to the moon.
Humanity should first evolve a lot more in certain areas and I'm not talking about technological stuff.

Me too (1)

angus_rg (1063280) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069474)

I'd like a fast moon buggy too. Where do I get in line?

Altair? So THAT'S why Bill Gates is retiring (1)

sbb (655140) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069584)

He's going to write a small OS for the Altair project. After that, he'll sell an OS he wrote (bought) to Boeing or Lockheed Martin (who seem to think that their money is in launch vehicle systems, but really in launch vehicle systems *software*). The proceeds of the sale will lead to him creating the world's largest space software company. Wonder if he'll bring Ballmer on board. How hard is it to throw a chair in space?

NASCAR (1)

Talen317 (1131949) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069916)

NASA / NASCAR you think the similarities are a coincidnece? I think not!
Gotta find a way to pay for this mission, so top fuel racing on the moon is it!

2.5 cupholders for every astronaut (1)

Provocateur (133110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22069970)

and the side mirror. To see what's following you from low moon orbit.

Airlocks? (3, Informative)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070102)

Dust is going to be a big problem for these designs that's going to require a different idea about airlocks. Aerospace engineers have gotten pretty good at designing equipment that operates in vacuum, extreme temperatures, etc. But they spend a lot of effort to keep them clean. You can try to seal all the systems, probably with good success. But astronauts are going to bring a lot of dust indoors every time they reenter. Apollo astronauts were filthy at the end of missions.

The designs I've seen for this don't really use airlocks . Suits similar to Soviet designs dock with the capsule or buggy. Astronauts climb in from the back and undock to work outside. Samples and equipment go through a smaller lock. Makes for some funky looking craft.http://blog.wired.com/cars/2007/09/rvs-in-space-lu.html [wired.com]

Solved in on 'U.F.O' (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070194)

They solved the design problem in 1972. I think it will end up looking like this. [ufoseries.com]

Fast buggies and low gravity (2, Funny)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070196)

So NASA want fast buggies? On the moon? Where the gravity is low? And no-one pointed out the potential problem of astronauts flooring it, leaping over a big ridge and crashing it worse than the Mars lander?

Oh well, at least the UK gets to share its space funding with the rest of Europe, so we don't spend only our money hot-rodding cars for low gravity :)

Re:Fast buggies and low gravity (1)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070752)

Catching air on the moon? SWEET. It may be worth losing the buggy just for the photo op.

They probably just want to make donuts on the moon. I would. THAT would be cool.

Pimp it, motherfuckers! (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070510)

Purple neon lights, unnecessary wings, fuzzy seats, hydraulic bouncers on two of the landing legs and "go faster" stickers!

And paint on some flames (over the lime green to solar orange gradient base coat) and get one of those "La Cucaracha" horns. You can't hear it in a vacuum, but it's the principle of the thing.

Oh, and a wicked sound system so our Mooninite homeboys can experience our righteous mammalian thump-thump. Well, I guess the whole vacuum thing figures in again, but still...

I'd start with a dropship (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070620)

Then a science vessel and work my way up to siege tanks and battlecruisers. My only question is this: is the Moon populated by Protoss or Zerg?

Solid Lunar Lander (2, Funny)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 6 years ago | (#22070646)

Gosh! I'm glad they finally got that spec'ed right. The fluid landers were just piss down the drain.

Amazed that this is first (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071036)

I would first focus on putting up a station on the poles and get a perm position going. From there, I would simply use a modified Armadillo (as in Carmack's, not bruce willis) to move around on the moon. The last thing that you want is to move along at the speed of wheels. You want to be able to jump all over. But putting up the station and getting automated manufacturing going would seem to be more important.

Weed Buggies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22071344)

But what of Fast Moonbuggies and Solid Lunar Lander.... ON WEED?

Why human-powered buggies? (2, Interesting)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071366)

Anyone know why NASA is specifying human-powered moon buggy designs?

"stepping stone to mars" (2, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 6 years ago | (#22071368)

Since the return to the moon is in effect supposed to be a stepping stone to Mars, why not send out proposals for a Mars lander that could easily be scaled back for a moon landing?

Then, plan to keep the astronauts up there for at least a month so that we can start planning for long-term habitation.

Am I crazy to be suggesting this? It would certainly reduce redundancies, and free up funds and time to focus on the other issues we'd have with a Mars mission (ie. the intermediary vehicle that would take the lander from Earth's orbit to Mars or the Moon and back)

Actually, come to think of it, I'm not seeing how a moon mission would be *that* much less difficult than a Mars mission, apart from the return journey.

Re:"stepping stone to mars" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22072598)

The requirements for Mars are so different it's not worthwhile to try to reconcile them into a common system. There may be some common technology, but on the whole, it will be put together much differently.

For one, Mars has an atmosphere. This is both an asset and a liability. It reduces the amount of fuel you need for entry and gives you a possible control mechanism, but it also creates heating and issues. Air buffeting over the spindly features of lunar-like lander would make it unstable and possibly break stuff, but the cowls and heat shields needed for atmospheric entry are dead weight and unnecessary complexity and geometric constraints for a moon landing.

Mars also has over twice the surface gravity of the moon. This means more energy to be dissipated for landing, and drastically more thrust and delta-V needed for the return flight. For the moon, the return vehicle can be part of the landing vehicle. It also means bigger engines for getting off the ground. For Mars, the return vehicle will be a rocket large enough to require being landed on its own.

The mass constraints on a Mars mission are even more restrictive than on a moon mission. A moon mission can be optimized around a short (1-3 week) stay. A Mars mission requires several months to a year to take advantage of launch windows and allow a worthwhile amount of surface activity to take place. That means a lot of extra supplies. The delta-V required means it costs more to send those supplies.

But the earth launch vehicles NASA is designing now are designed to be capable of use for sending stuff to Mars, especially the mammoth Ares V.
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