Works in Progress - Autumn 2013

Southern Exposure

By Sasha Ingber | September 5, 2013
Artist's rendering of a moon house (ESA/Foster + Partners)

 

What would it take to build a house on the Moon? Quite a lot, it turns out. The structure would have to protect dwellers from a harsh environment, including extreme temperature variations, micrometeoroids, radiation, and an environmental vacuum that causes water to evaporate in a span of seconds. It’s all a little like asking for the Moon itself. Yet lunar homebuilding is what a consortium commissioned by the European Space Agency hopes to accomplish.

“Our strategy mimics the scenario of human exploration,” says project leader and engineer Laurent Pambaguian. “Upon reaching new land, the pioneers used what was there instead of bringing all materials across the seas in their vessels.”

Most of the construction will make use of lunar soil, known as regolith. First, though, a structure made on Earth will be rocketed to the Moon to become the entrance to an inflatable, dome-shaped house. Just outside, a robot-operated 3D printer will use regolith to manufacture a foam-like protective shell over the dome. Engineers have confirmed that the printing process works inside a vacuum chamber that replicates lunar conditions. The shielding efficiency of the regolith shell will determine how long astronauts can remain within it.

The consortium plans to build the house, designed by architects from London-based Foster + Partners, at the Moon’s south pole. “It’s hard to imagine the view since it’s so alien,” says physicist Markus Landgraf, referring to the monochromatic landscape of soft hills and craters.

But why go to the Moon? “Why do we want to go to the top of Mount Everest or the deepest point of the ocean?” Pambaguian asks. “Human beings strive to explore what is around them.”

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