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How to build lunar homes from moon dirt

Posted by keelynet on September 16, 2008

Well, guess that’s one way to do it, but I like the microwave tractor that melts lunar rock to make building materials.

“Bulldozers and excavation systems are pretty bulky and heavy,” said Kris Zacny, director of drilling and excavation systems at Honeybee Robotics in New York City. “We came out with a different method of digging that uses gas.” Zacny’s invention digs up ground by injecting gas into the dirt, thereby creating a high-pressure situation from which the gas naturally wants to escape. When it does fly upward, the gas’ strong momentum ends up taking dirt up with it. In detail, this so-called pneumatic excavation mechanism involves gas pumped into the ground through a thin tube encased by a wider hose. When the gas escapes, carrying along material from the ground, it travels up through the hose to a storage container. “It’s kind of like a vacuum cleaner, but the reverse,” Zacny said. Instead of using suction, the machine injects gas down to draw material up. The contraption weighs a lot less than conventional digging tools, though it begs the question: Where will future moon-dwellers get the gas needed to operate the machine? One good source could be the carbon dioxide breathed out every day by astronauts, he said. Another option is to burn any leftover fuel in the rocket thrusters on the moon landing vehicle, and collect the exhaust. “When a spacecraft lands on the moon, it has a little extra fuel left over, just in case you have to fly longer than you planned,” Zacny said. “Once you land it’s a deadweight.” But burning this fuel to create gas is great way to power the pneumatic excavator, he said. Reduce, reuse, recycle – Once the device has sucked up lunar dirt, or regolith, this material could be conveniently diverted and used as a protective covering over homes (regolith is good for shielding from radiation). The dirt could also be processed to extract the oxygen bound up in its minerals. In order to free up the oxygen trapped inside, regolith must be heated to high temperatures. The engineers propose passing the material through a heat exchanger after it is extracted. Or, if the source of gas for the excavator is from leftover rocket fuel, then the exhaust will already be hot, and as it passes into the regolith it can heat the dirt up. “Something that we’ll have to consider is radiation,” Zacny said. “We can close ourselves in habitats, but radiation protection requires a lot of shielding. We cannot solve this problem yet. Radiation can kill us.” Moon dwellers will also have to contend with the ubiquitous dust on the surface of the moon, which gets into everything and can wear down joints and connectors and prevent sealing off doors. It also poses a health risk to people, as it can cause breathing problems and is difficult to filter out of habitats.” – Source

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