ESA researchers are looking at lunar dust as a raw material for making bricks to build habitats for future manned outposts on the Moon. Using "simulants" that mimic the properties of actual Moon dust, the goal is to determine if the gray, fine, rough-edged dust that covers the lunar surface is suitable for making habitats, roads, launch pads and other installations.
If the spacefaring nations manage to one day send astronauts back to Moon, the general consensus is that, if the explorers are going to do more than pay brief visits, they're going to have to build proper outposts to provide work and living spaces that protect the crews from deadly cosmic radiation.
But with the present cost of getting to the Moon making a bottle of water cost as much as a 1928 Krug Champagne going for US$20,000, shipping building materials from Earth would be prohibitively expensive. To overcome this bottleneck, engineers are looking at Moon dust as a local substitute that can be burned, crushed, or compressed into solid blocks.
According to ESA, the Earth and Moon share a very similar geological history, with Moon dust being the result of micrometeorite impacts and cosmic radiation on the lunar lava flows. Since the area around Cologne, Germany produced similar lava flows about 45 million years ago, scientists at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) examined samples of the German volcanic powder and found that it made a good base material to create a simulated lunar dust called EAC-1.
The tricky bit is that producing the dust requires more than just grinding it up to the right grade. Lunar dust is also very sharp edged to the point of being a potential health hazard and it's so dry that it carries an electrostatic charge due to the constant radiation bombardment.
The concern is that this charge might alter the properties of the dust and its suitability as a building material. So far, attempting to recreate properties of the lunar dust under radiation has activated the particles, but has destroyed other properties.
"This gives us one more reason to go back to the Moon," says Erin Tranfield, a member of ESA's lunar dust topical team. "We need pristine samples from the surface exposed to the radiation environment."
The video below discussed the Moon dust simulant.
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more