Scientists find a way to make roads on the Moon – and it’s simple

When astronauts inevitably return to the lunar surface, they’ll drive rather than walk. Now, scientists say they’ve found a way to make roads on the Moon.

The most obvious obstacle to roadmaking on the lunar surface is moondust, which is ultra-fine, abrasive, and clingy. In the Apollo era of the 1960s and 1970s, dust quickly clogged equipment and eroded spacesuits.

On Earth, our soil is eroded by wind and water. The Moon has neither. Thus, moondust is a major hazard to further space exploration.

It just so happens that NASA is leading the Artemis program, a new Moon exploration program that’s intended to reestablish a human presence on the Moon for the first time since 1972. The program’s long-term goal is to establish a permanent lunar base.

Now, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA), one of NASA’s partner organizations for the Artemis program, have conducted experiments and believe that they’ve found a way to make future lunar missions more hospitable.

Moondust could be a major obstacle to further lunar exploration. Image by Shutterstock.

Since the most practical response to keep dust at bay is to pave over areas of activity, and transporting building materials from Earth to the Moon is very expensive, an ESA project reported in Nature Scientific Reports tested the creation of roadworthy surfaces by melting simulated moondust with a powerful laser.

ESA’s PAVER (paving the road for large area sintering of regolith) project investigated the feasibility of the approach for lunar roadmaking. It was led by Germany’s BAM Institute of Materials Research and Testing with Aalen University in Germany, LIQUIFER Systems Group in Austria, and Germany’s Clausthal University of Technology, with support from the Institute of Materials Physics in Space of the German Aerospace Center, DLR.

The PAVER consortium made use of a 12-kilowatt carbon dioxide laser to melt simulated moondust into a glassy solid surface as a way of constructing paved surfaces on the face of the Moon, the ESA said.

The experiments were successful, scientists reported. They said that lunar dust could one day indeed be fused into paved roads and landing pads on the Moon using concentrated sunlight from huge lenses.

In order to focus the sunlight needed to generate a beam on the Moon as strong as those used in the experiments, the researchers calculated a lens about 5.7 feet (1.74 meters) in diameter was needed.

According to the scientists, using this method, tiles could be created on the Moon in a relatively short time with simple equipment. The team estimates that a 1076-square-foot landing pad with a thickness of 0.78 inches of dense material could be constructed in 115 days.

Artemis 3 is planned to be the first crewed landing in 2025. In 2024, the four crew members of Artemis 2 should perform extensive testing in Earth orbit. The Artemis 1 mission, with robots and mannequins aboard, was already launched in 2022.

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Tom Julian
prefix 7 months ago
"What's your job on the moon, Dr. PHD, Astronaught science person?"
"I melt squares all day!"
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