If humans hope to inhabit the Moon, they’ll need to control the hazardous regolith of the barren orb. A European Space Agency (ESA) project looks to make residing on the Moon—or at least driving on it—safer for man and machine.
Psalm 8:6 states that God gave humans dominion over the works of His hands. These works include “the Moon and the stars” since they are “the work of His fingers.” (Psalm 8:3) Some Bible scholars believe these and other verses imply that God would permit—and approve of—human space travel.
Earth’s Moon is the most likely candidate for human exploration and possible future habitation. But the Moon doesn’t possess many natural building materials. It does, however, feature dust a-plenty.
And that dust can be a real problem.
According to aerospace engineer Juan-Carlos Ginés-Palomares, moondust particles are sharp and sticky. They can damage everything from spacesuits and landers to rovers and human lungs. (See Left in the Dust No More.)
Before vehicles roam the Moon, explorers want to create roads so they won’t kick up dust. But who can haul building materials all the way to the Moon? The solution needs to use material already available there.
Scientists at the ESA wondered whether that pesky lunar dust could be transformed into paving material.
Ginés-Palomares and his team wondered: Could intense sunlight fuse regolith into a rock-like surface? Lacking actual moondust, they experimented with a lunar soil substitute known as EAC-1A.
To recreate sunlight, the scientists used laser beams. It worked! They fabricated tiles nearly 10 inches wide and about an inch thick. The tiles’ top layer became a rigid glassy substance.
“The resulting material is glasslike and brittle but will mainly be subject to downward compression forces,” says ESA materials engineer Advenit Makaya. “Even if it breaks, we can still go on using it, repairing it as necessary.”
To produce an intense, laser-like beam on the Moon, scientists estimate a lunar paving crew would need a Fresnel lens five-and-a-half feet across. If you’ve seen a lighthouse beam from far away, you’ve witnessed a Fresnel lens focusing light.
Scientists say moondust tiles could link together, forming large surfaces like roads or landing pads.
Before space explorers start laying down Main Street, researchers suggest further testing. For example, will the tiles survive the force of a rocket thrust? How will lack of oxygen and gravity change the way the technology to create the surface works?
Still, Ginés-Palomares believes it’s possible “tiles could be created on the Moon in a relatively short time with simple equipment.”
Why? Considering solutions that combine technology with readily available materials is thoughtful use of resources—including time, money, and energy.