What happens after we land on the moon? Our satellite is being eyed as a launch pad to Mars, but if the moon is going to be a way station between Earth and deep space, we need to build a viable lunar colony—and it could be made entirely out of moon dust.
The thing is, we haven’t been able to test how moon dust holds up in brick form, because you know, we haven’t actually landed on the moon since Apollo 17. The rough gray dust that has become something of a magical substance in way too many fantasy movies as a building material almost impossible to run out of. This is why ESA researchers are experimenting with the closest substances to lunar dust they can possibly find or create right here on this planet.
By the way, moon dust is the farthest thing from magical, which is why you should never breathe it in. But it will probably make fantastic cement.
“Moon bricks will be made of dust,” said ESA science advisor Aidan Cowley, whose experience studying and working with lunar soil will be invaluable to a permanent lunar outpost. “You can create solid blocks out of it to build roads and launch pads, or habitats that protect your astronauts from the harsh lunar environment.”
Anyone living on the moon will have to be much less reliant on Earth supplies (and the astronomical costs it will take to fly them over). Lunar regolith will not only be accessible but invaluable for habitats and other structures, and being a silicate-rich basaltic material makes it eerily similar to volcanic soil here on Earth. The remnants of a 45-million-year lava flow near Cologne, Germany, closely mirror moon dust.
“The Moon and Earth share a common geological history,” Aidan said, “and it is not difficult to find material similar to that found on the Moon in the remnants of lava flows.”
This Earthly “lunar” dust, named EAC-1, is 40% oxygen. That could determine how long buildings made out of this stuff actually hold up. ESA’s Spaceship EAC Initiative team is working with it to gauge the building potential of actual lunar dust with its oxygen content in mind as they concept future technologies and hangouts on the moon.
Moon-brick buildings might not be your idea of a hangout, but astronauts will need a place to crash whether they’re in for an extended stay on the moon or taking a few days off before being launched to Mars.
Before staying over on the moon becomes a thing, we also have to figure out what to do about the electrical charge in lunar dust particles, which are constantly getting blasted by solar radiation. ESA’s lunar dust topical team is studying the electrostatic nature of the particles and their tendency to lift off the surface. Scientists are still in the dark about its chemical charge and what that could mean for how long the hypothetical habitats actually last.
“This gives us one more reason to go back to the Moon. We need pristine samples from the surface exposed to the radiation environment,” explained ESA lunar dust topical team scientist Erin Tranfield.
Radiation hazards aside, you have to admit that the thought of living in something made out of moon bricks is still awesomely sci-fi.