January 16, 2008

Long overdue

A group of scientists have developed plans for a mostly self-sustaining lunar habitat. Coincidentally, I was talking to my wife about life in space recently and mentioned that pretty much all waste, including urine, would be have to be recycled and reused. I also mentioned that solar energy would be the energy source of choice because, umm, do I really need to say it? Excerpt:

According to the plans, Luna Gaia will be a complex divided into linked, studio-apartment-size pods. Situated in a crater to limit its inhabitants' exposure to solar radiation, it would include private and social areas, labs and exercise rooms, and greenhouses in which astronauts could grow the food necessary for a balanced diet. Filters, plants and bacteria will turn wash water and urine into potable water. Algae and other greenery turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Overall, the group estimates, these systems would make Luna Gaia 90 to 95 percent sustainable, meaning fewer service trips, longer visits and a clearer conscience.

Anyway, the article has some pretty good ideas, but I've got a few questions of my own:

1) Why are they using solar energy to heat water, convert it into steam and then drive a turbine to create electricty? I realize that solar panels aren't horribly efficient, but since you'll be sitting in a no cloudy days, ever, area, you should probably just go straight photovoltaic conversion. Sure, the cells are bulky, but so are replacement parts for turbines, which also do not last forever.

2) They've got the radiation protection worked out, but the scientists just seem to ignore the incoming rock problem. Here on Earth, we've got miles and miles of atmosphere, which eliminates all but the largest meteorites. On the Moon, stuff would just come on in at high velocity. Even a pinhole leak would be enough to kill of the colony. And the moon's surface was excavated by a race of space aliens, it has been bombarded for a long time by enough rocks to make the surface look like a teenager's face. Why not bore into the side of the moon and build the colony mostly underground? Have the cells and solar redirection panels on the crater's edge as designed, but have the habitat protected by the rock already there. As far as I'm aware, the moon isn't seismicly active, so no problem with earthquakes.

In any event, I hope that this stuff gets moving soon. I remember the first moon landing, albeit somewhat dimly, as I was small child at the time. If you had told me around 1972 or so that we not only wouldn't have a moon colony by 2008, but that we wouldn't have gone back to the moon at all, I'd have thought you were nuts. Of course, you may well be insane, but in this one case you are also 100% correct.

Posted by: Physics Geek at 10:56 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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