Saturday, February 21, 2004

Other lava tube advantages

Yesterday we saw how lava tubes would act as a radiation shelter for astronauts on the moon. There are, however, several other potential advantages in putting a base in a lava tube[1].

Firstly, protection from meteoroids. The moon is constantly pounded by meteors weighing tiny fractions of a gram (we call them micrometeors), as well as meteor showers of larger meteors now and again. Although the micrometeorites are an unfortunate annoyance and can be compensated for by building equipment slightly bulkier than ideal, the larger meteor showers would be a serious danger to an exposed base. Placing a base inside a lava tube would protect it from meteor showers, thus making anti-meteor armour less of a necessity, and the tube would also provide a shelter for delicate equipment that would be easily damaged by meteors.

Second are thermal considerations. The lunar surface varies from ≅100 K in the nighttime to ≅400 K in the day, which means that thermal regulation of a base in order to keep it comfortable for humans could be a bit of a nightmare. If a base is placed in a lava tube, protection from heat is no longer a problem - all you need to do would is try your utmost to keep heat in, and we have experience of dealing with that kind of problem from polar research bases.

Finally is the problem of lunar dust. Formed from lunar rock by millions of years of bombardment by meteors, lunar dust is a serious headache. It's a very fine powder that gets into everything, clogging up motors, covering solar panels and shorting out electronics. But because lava tube interiors have been protected from meteors, we expect them to be relative dust free. Of course, by the time we've been walking and driving in and out for a couple of weeks it won't be.

So we've established that putting a lunar base inside a lava tube would be a good idea. So how do we go about finding a good site?


[1] Moon Miners' Manifesto: 12 Questions About Lunar Lava Tubes

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