The moon is a messy place. If you’re old enough to remember Apollo 11, then you may remember how blowing dust from the spacecraft rockets made landing difficult, or how instruments and experiments were impeded by the clogging dust. It made the spacecraft ladder slippery and covered the astronaut’s suits. Dust on the moon, it turns out, is not the same as the soft dust bunnies on Earth. It’s sharp and scratchy, very fine, like pulverized shards of glass. (Ouch. Good thing our astronauts weren’t barefoot!)
The latest news is that the dust on the moon accumulates much faster than scientists originally thought. Scientists from the University of Western Australia have gathered and analyzed data from the Apollo missions, information that is up to 40 plus years old, in order to measure the moon’s natural accumulation rate of dust. They determined this using the light from the sun.
A device left on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew, and subsequent missions, was a matchbox-sized contraption that held three solar cells on its surface, each layered with a different level of radiation shielding. (Danger of radiation damage could destroy solar cells, which are an important power source for exploration missions.)
Electrical measurements from the solar cells show a voltage drop as dust granules block the sunlight from coming in, allowing calculations on how fast dust accumulates. The difference of radiation shielding on each solar cell enabled them to compare which caused the most damage to the
cells – dust or radiation.
Dust, it turns out, could be a bigger problem for future lunar missions than radiation.
Now, I’m going on record here and saying that I, for one, love the idea of space exploration. I’ve been all for it ever since I read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. But it’s very expensive, and sounds an awful lot like getting your bathroom remodeled… you pay a fortune to have the new flooring put down only to find the subfloor is rotted and the plumbing jimmy-rigged.
In the quest to find more energy resources for our over-populated planet, there are even some who have come up with the idea of putting giant solar panels on the surface of the moon and beaming solar energy back to Earth. The hope is this could supply all our energy needs, eliminating the depletion of our own planets resources.
One such proposal comes from Shimizu, a Japanese engineering firm that is calling their dream “Luna Ring”, so named because the solar panels would circle the moon’s equator. The plan is that weather conditions wouldn’t be a problem for the solar panels, like they are on Earth, and robots could be used to do the work necessary to keep the solar panels operating.
Sounds wonderful. But I can only imagine all the problems – financial, technical, and political. Would the project get started, only to end partway through when political alliances changed and the funding ran out? Would it end up being just one more unfinished development, like an empty office building with plastic sheeting for windows?
But let’s say it could really happen, and we could really muster the money and (deplete more) resources to actually build a solar power plant on the moon. Even though the dust accumulation on the moon is far slower than the dust accumulation on Earth, we wouldn’t be dropping in every month to vacuum, and scientists disagree on whether electrostatic forces just gently move dust around from moon rock to moon rock, or if sweeping storms dust (pun intended) the surface.
And who dusts the robots? Presumably, they would dust each other. From the sounds of it, the most important tool in the robots arsenal would have to be a feather duster. So the whole of our energy needs would rest on the age old problem of whose turn it is to clean.
Plus, will the moon look the same to us? Or will we see a ring around it’s middle? We’ll have all these little robots (classed: female, of course) circling the perimeter of the moon, as we bask in the glow from the ring around it’s middle.
Like a giant golden wedding band.
Takes “romancing under the moon” to a whole new level, doesn’t it guys?