Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Moon News  

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

Surviving Lunar Dangers

expensive eyecandy - see more at Grin at NASA
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Oct 28, 2010
Space takes its toll on humans and equipment. Go into deep space, and the environment becomes even more hostile. Land on the Moon, and you're facing the most dangerous place humans have explored beyond our own world.

Most gear that lands on the Moon is only designed to operate for short periods. Sometimes, it's just not worth keeping it functioning for a long time. In other cases, you just can't keep it running. The environment takes its toll. Today, there's nothing on the surface of the Moon that still works, except for a handful of laser reflectors at the Apollo landing sites and on the Lunokhod rovers.

We want to go back to the Moon and we want to stay there for a lot longer. We expect our equipment to function for long periods, and we also want to keep astronauts alive there for more than a few days. If we want to do this properly, we need to do more basic research about the conditions there.

At some point, we need to land a mission on the surface of the Moon for engineering tests. We need to see how various types of materials and devices stand up against the environment on the lunar surface.

One of the early Soviet lunar orbiters carried an electric motor as the first lunar engineering test. This was identical to the motors planned for later use on the Lunokhod robot Moon rovers. Engineers wanted to make sure that it would work in a lunar environment. It did, and the Lunokhods went on to successfully explore the lunar surface.

We've gained a lot of recent experience with keeping spacecraft operational in lunar orbit. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is working well, on an extended mission. But lunar orbit is a less hostile place than the surface. On the ground, there's dust, electrical charges, ions and water vapour, and extreme temperatures. The scorching lunar day lasts two weeks, followed by a chilling two weeks of night.

Some of the current lunar research will help us to design better gear for the Moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is providing great data on temperatures and the radiation environment. The LADEE orbiter, planned for later this decade, will investigate lunar dust migration and the tenuous lunar atmosphere. All of this is useful to know before you land there.

But there's nothing like actually going there. A lander on the surface could expose objects to their real working environment, long before we're depending on them to perform.

Space agencies have conducted materials tests in Earth orbit before. These tests have sometimes produced some shocking results, as materials considered for use in space have been viciously attacked by the environment. But Earth orbit is different from anywhere else. It's unrealistic to extrapolate some of these results to lunar orbit, or the lunar surface.

If space agencies are going to develop generic lunar landing stages for their future missions, then the cost of staging an engineering test will fall.

A lander would touch down, carrying samples of materials on panels, as well as items such as batteries, circuitry, and mechanical parts. Cameras and other sensors would measure their performance and degradation. Then, over time, we would gradually see how our candidate lunar materials fared.

The lander could also include some simple scientific experiments, such as a laser reflector, to broaden its mission.

Alternatively, small engineering test experiments could be slotted onto primarily scientific landers. Over the course of several missions, a number of components would be evaluated.

Long-term experiments would place heavy demands on the landers, as they would need to stay alive for longer than the components they were evaluating. This could be a problem, but we need long-endurance landers for other purposes. Once robust landers are ready to operate instruments such as telescopes or environmental surveys, they can be adapted for these engineering tests.

What sort of materials would we test? Some of the exterior cladding proposed for lunar habitats or landing modules would be appropriate. Optical surfaces, such as windows, lenses and mirrors could be monitored for degradation. Lubricants will also be a high-priority issue. Seals for hatches are also critical.

Even the landers themselves represent test missions. If they work well, they have verified the performance of their own components!

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.

Share This Article With Planet Earth DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook

Related Links
Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

Collision Spills New Moon Secrets
Providence RI (SPX) Oct 26, 2010
Scientists led by Brown University are offering the first detailed explanation of the crater formed when a NASA rocket and spacecraft slammed into the Moon last October and information about the composition of the lunar soil at the poles that never has been sampled. The findings are published in six papers in the Oct. 22, 2010, edition of Science stemming from the successful NASA mission, ... read more

2013 Earliest Launch Date For China Mars Mission

A One-Way Trip To Mars Would Be Affordable

Curiosity Builds A New Mars Rover

Opportunity's Eastward View After Sol 2382 Drive

Spring Has Sprung ... On Titan

Cassini Clocks Nine Moons In 62 Hours

Titan's Hazes May Hold Ingredients Of Life

Saturn's Icy Moon May Keep Oceans Liquid With Wobble

Kuiper Belt Of Many Colors

Reaching The Mid-Mission Milestone On The Way To Pluto

New Horizons Student Dust Counter Instrument Breaks Distance Record

Nitrogen Methane Dominate Icy Surface Of Eris

Evidence of an 'active' Venus found

Venus Express Probes Atmosphere By Flying Through It

Venus Express Finds Planet's Atmosphere a Drag

Hot Atmosphere Of Venus May Cool Planet's Interior

Introducing The A-Train

Teen Sailor Meets NASA Team That Helped Saved Her Life

Modeling The Fiery Past And Future Of Planet Earth

Italy slaps restrictions on Google's Street View

Commercial spacecraft launch test delayed

DLR Launches 'STERN' Rocket Programme For Students

U.K. predicts 'spaceplane' in 10 years

Successful Static Testing Of L 110 Liquid Core Stage Of GSLV 3

Discovery Swan Song Carries Two Final Payloads From Boulder

Preparations On Pace For Discovery Mission

Discovery launch set for November 1: NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery Ready For Its Final Mission

EU mulls opening ISS to more countries

Russian Space Dumpster Take Science Detour Before Pacific Reentry

International Space Station Water System Successfully Activated

Russia Sends New Space Freighter To Orbital Station

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