Sky's Up - Fall 2015 - Page 18

10?s In this recurring feature, Sky’s Up gives students the opportunity to ask 10 Questions to leading astronomers, space explorers, scientists and cosmologists. ooo The questions for this installment were submitted by 8th grade students in the Pre-AP Science program at Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Ark. Building Blocks JPL scientists are paving the way for space bases 18 1 Why do we need a lunar base? How can a lunar base help us expand our space exploration options? 2 How are the bricks made now, and how will the process be different in space? What energy source would be used? Bricks made on Earth usually contain various components that help bind the brick material together. One option is to send up these binding components for making bricks in space, however, it will be very expensive to do that. There are several energy sources being evaluated for use on the Moon or Mars. We are evaluating the use of microwaves. Other researchers are evaluating focused solar energy. Left, Jet Propulsion Laboratory colleagues Dr. Martin Barmatz, right, and David Steinfeld, seated, prepare to make dielectric and magnetic property measurements on lunar soils in the lunar sample building at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Opposite page, Steinfeld holds a measurement tube containing a lunar soil sample. On December 14, 1972, U.S. Astronaut Gene Cernan made the last boot print on the Moon as he stepped off the lunar soil to board the Apollo 17 Lunar Module. Although decades have passed since humanity left the Moon behind, interest in what our solemn companion can teach us has not diminished. In fact, the desire in the scientific community to revisit the Moon and venture beyond is very much alive. A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put this “when we go” attitude into action by developing a method to create the building materials necessary for habitation of the Moon or Mars out of a readily available resource. Their solution is a microwave heating system that can completely melt lunar or Mars regolith (soil) into a substance that can be used to make bricks and even roads on site. In an effort to further support these future missions by addressing essential life support needs, the team is currently evaluating how this microwave heating process might be used to extract consumables like water from various regolith types. In this installment of Sky’s Up’s “10 Questions” feature, JPL colleagues Dr. Martin Barmatz and David Steinfeld answer questions about the project. Sky’s Up There are several reasons for having a lunar base. It can be used as a stepping stone for a future trip to Mars or asteroids. Another advantage is to have a base for more accurately studying the evolution of the Moon and for preparing for future colonization. There is considerable interest in finding ways of extracting water from the lunar polar regions for supplying future colonists. At the present time there is no NASA funding allocated for a lunar base, however other nations are actively considering this possibility. COURTESY OF JPL/NASA Sky’s Up 19