Building a native Moon base
Howdy y'all! This is Jo Shindler writing again and I have a scientific scenario for you all to think about! We really enjoyed thinking this one through and I want to get your feedback on the subject.
One of the biggest draws to Shackleton Crater for me is the seriousness with which we are writing the game's story. Although we are rooting Shackleton Crater in as much contemporary science as we can, there is some science we have to creatively solve. This became especially apparent when we started brainstorming on the second stage of play - how does one actually begin a construction project on the Moon without shipping material from Earth?
Let's start by addressing what we found to be the biggest issues:
- Shipping material from Earth is prohibitively expensive both in terms of energy expenditure and materials moved. Not only does it take a lot of fuel to move a ship but anything you want to move that doesn't fit in the cargo hold will take multiple trips.
- Traditional construction techniques have limited application - our structures must be airtight, superbly insulated and strongly reinforced.
- You don't want a wide variety of specialized tools - redundancy in your kit means if something breaks it can be replaced more quickly.
So what's our answer? 3D printers and solar furnaces. These devices will be essential to any future colonization effort on any planet away from home. Since the core of our stage two construction theory relies on the understanding of material science, we need to share with you a couple of words and engineering concepts.
Let’s start with 3D printers. A 3D printer transforms a drawing into a three dimensional object by creating it layer by successive layer. Each layer is a thinly sliced, horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. 3D printing is kind of like making a multi-layer cake, with the baker laying down each layer one at a time until the entire cake is formed.
The next thing we need to understand is “regolith”. Regolith is the blanket of soil, broken rocks, dust, and other tiny objects that cover some celestial bodies like the Earth and Moon. On Earth, the more common name for regolith is soil and our soil is created by the weathering of rocks and from other naturally occurring biological processes. On the Moon, since there is no weather, regolith is made up of the debris of asteroid or meteoroid impacts. It isn’t considered soil because the lunar surface does not have any organic material and thus no biological processes like here on Earth. Astronauts describe the lunar regolith as looking a lot like snow powder and found it to be made up of three materials that when combined in the proper way, make incredible building blocks. They are silicon dioxide glass, calcium and magnesium. Remember the picture of Neil Armstrong’s boot on the Moon? That image is created as being one of the best examples showing the fine soot-like regolith that covers the Moon.
Using a solar furnace, workers would create building blocks or tiles with the Moon’s regolith through sintering. Sintering is the process of heating up powder and turning it into a solid. So the idea here is that you bake the lunar regolith into bricks which are then used to build everything. This work is already being done experimentally here on Earth and shows great promise. Sintered lunar regolith bricks and other building supports are all intended to be generic and uniform so they can be used to make nearly any necessary exterior structure. Furthermore, you only have two real pieces of gear you need to get started; the printer and the furnace. The buildings can then be assembled by robots or humans as your engineering is more or less done for you (since the pieces are generic). This thinking also tells me what I need to tell my concept artists - although, the first thing that comes to mind are igloos...
Here's where the scenario unfolds: We need to figure out what size and/or quantity of lunar bricks are needed to sufficiently to insulate against heat and radiation. After we figure that out, we then need to figure out how to make the structures airtight. I have several material candidates for that process in mind but haven’t been able to narrow it down to which material is the most viable. One logical extension of our thinking is that you have other 3D printers making sheets of electronics, insulation and/or ablative material to layer on the lunar regolith bricks, with the bricks serving as both insulative mass and structural support. The problem is that the sheet materials are far more difficult to come by without shipping them in.
This is where I want our community members, our Joes, to weigh in on what you know about advanced engineering and material science. How do you see us resolving these two issues? Even if you don’t know anything about engineering and material sciences, send us your guess. Send your ideas today to the team at email@example.com . We promise to consider everything and who knows; maybe you’ll solve one of the big questions.
Thanks for reading and be sure to visit here again soon for our next update!
Vice President, Joe Got Game