Written by Dr Klaus L E Kaiser
As you may know, there is a great push by man to settle the Moon. As reported, NASA just awarded a $78 million contract “for Intuitive Machines [a private U.S. company] to develop, launch and land its Nova-C spacecraft on the lunar surface with a payload of NASA and private experiments.”
One Step at a Time
The first task is to send some vital supplies that are required to build/establish a permanent Moonatory (i.e. a Moon Laboratory) facility. After that, real Moononauts are to follow suit and, eventually move onto Planet Mars, to settle there as well. At least that’s the thought.
Of course, all this Moon- and Mars-Lighting is going to take some time, perhaps a few decades or more. And it will cost “a good penny.” But the (presumed) benefits could be priceless. For example, sand (yes the stuff you typically find on ocean shores) is getting to be in short supply here on Earth, particularly in some areas.
Sand and Cement
Sure, there is still plenty of sand in the Sahara and other notable deserts. But those sand dunes are far from the Metropolis next to you, or even further from the countryside you may be living at. And yes, there’s plenty of sand on both the Moon and Mars as well.
What’s in short supply on the Moon and Mars, actually practically absent on either celestial body are two other important ingredients for construction. The first one is the precursor of hydraulic cement, also known as “Portland cement” (PC). This name was to suggest its similarity to a particular limestone occurring on the Isle of Portland in England.
Portland cement is made from limestone and natural silicates by high temperature calcination, i.e. heating the rock to temperatures typically at around 1400 C (2500 F) in large rotary kilns. That process breaks down the crystal structure of the rock’s minerals and result in an extremely fine powder. Mixed with sand, gravel – and water – in the right proportions, that mixture hardens over a few days to a new and very strong rock. That is the load-bearing component of near all modern building structures. For additional cohesion, strengthening against breaks through uneven loads or shifting grounds, rods of steel, commonly termed REBARS (re-enforcement bars) are embedded.
Limestone and related rock formations, like dolomite are widely occurring on Earth. Large deposits, including entire mountain ranges are made from it, for example the Niagara Escarpment, stretching from New York to Wisconsin, many of the mountain ranges in the European Alps, such as the Dolomites, and major parts of the Himalayas, including the top of Mt. Everest, etc. In short, limestone and other sedimentary rocks make up a significant part of the landmass on Earth on every continent, even on Antarctica. Why is that so?
All sedimentary rocks have been formed in water, the numerous fossils in such rocks are clear evidence of that. Those rocks contain various amounts of calcium- and magnesium-carbonate. All that “carbon” in such carbonates was from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air and water. In other words, without the vast volume of water that covers Earth’s surface, no limestone would ever have been formed. But water (and carbon dioxide) alone could not have done it.
One more “ingredient” was necessary, namely nature’s invention of photosynthesis. That’s what consumes part of the CO2 in water and air and converts it to plant matter. The byproduct of that sunlight-driven process is the removal of oxygen from the CO2 creating both molecular oxygen and alkaline (the opposite of acidic) water. That’s why the oceans and freshwater systems that support photosynthesis are all alkaline.
Indeed, plenty of (surface) water is the medium that enables the existence of plants and all life on Earth. Carbon dioxide is the other vital precondition. CO2 is plentiful in the Mars atmosphere but water is not. Recent claims as to the existence of a lake of water deep down in a crater on Mars and claims of surface features showing erosion by water are all to be taken with a grain of salt. I suspect that they are more products of wishful thinking than incontrovertible observations.
The Moon does not have any atmosphere to speak of at all and no water worth mentioning either.
So, neither the Moonatory nor your Condo on the Moon may be quite ready by the time you get there.
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