May 11, 1998

Homesteading the High Frontier: Marshall Scientists Explore How To Use Local Materials


Homesteading the High Frontier: Marshall Scientists Explore How To Use Local Materials

Update May 11, 1998: Added Acrobat PDF copies of each paper. This requires Acrobat Reader (click here to download a free copy).


April 28, 1998: Like the homesteaders, who settled the Great American Plains, settlers on the Moon and Mars may have to dig into the soil to build homes. But these homes will be as far from sod huts as the Space Shuttle is from the Conestoga wagon and scientists have an idea on how to build a better wagon, too.


Above is an artist's concept of an early Moon base under development. A medium-resolution copy of this image is available from Lewis Research Center. (painting by Pat Rawlings of SAIC for NASA/Lewis)

Today, scientists from or affiliated with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will discuss their approaches to building on the Moon or Mars, or just going out for a drive. They will present six papers at the Space '98 conference being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers, NASA, and other organizations.

Building lunar and Martian bases from local or in situ (on-site) materials is a concept almost as old as space exploration. Over the years, though, scientists and engineers have refined their ideas of how to use materials and to work around the challenges of building a factory with a long supply line.

While the probably discovery of water on the lunar surface has stirred great excitement, lunar soil offers a broad range of materials for building - and for breathing.

Processing materials on the Moon and Mars will be a challenge because they have only 1/6 and 1/3 the gravity of Earth. This could change how metals fill molds and form the microstructures that determine how the finished product will behave.



There's not much gold in those hills, but what can be found - aluminum, silica, oxygen, and perhaps even water (at the poles) - will be far more valuable if we can learn how to extract and use it.
Once you figure that out, though, one of the products you might want to make is glass fiber from which to weave a shelter or other structures. Some of the materials could be built into solar cells that power a moon base and could also be used on Mars or asteroids - if they have the right materials. Finally, some of the materials might be useful as radiation shielding, although it turns out that lighter is better.
Driving around on the surface of another world might deserve a different set of wheels by using a variation on an old English invention.


Check the space construction story. check the planetary rover story. Want to look for more pictures? Check the NASA Image Exchange.

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Author: Dave Dooling
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack