NASA's future inflatable lunar base

NASA's future inflatable lunar base

Summary: If you think that future NASA's moon camps need to have a science fiction look, you might be disappointed. Today, NASA is testing small inflatable structures. In fact, if these expandable 'tents' receive positive reviews, astronauts will 'camp' on the moon as early as 2020. These 12-foot (3.65 meter) diameter inflatable units could be used as building blocks for a future lunar base. Right now, a prototype is tested at NASA's Langley Research Center. But NASA also wants to test other inflatable structures in the not-too-friendly environment of the Antarctic next year. Still, it's too early to know if NASA's first habitable lunar base will use inflatable or rigid structures.

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TOPICS: Nasa / Space
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If you think that future NASA's moon camps need to have a science fiction look, you might be disappointed. Today, NASA is testing small inflatable structures. In fact, if these expandable 'tents' receive positive reviews, astronauts will 'camp' on the moon as early as 2020. These 12-foot (3.65 meter) diameter inflatable units could be used as building blocks for a future lunar base. Right now, a prototype is tested at NASA's Langley Research Center. But NASA also wants to test other inflatable structures in the not-too-friendly environment of the Antarctic next year. Still, it's too early to know if NASA's first habitable lunar base will use inflatable or rigid structures.

Before going further, below is a picture of the inflatable lunar basic unit during its deployment (Credit: NASA/Jeff Caplan).

NASA's inflatable lunar basic unit during deployment

And below is the finished 'tent' or lunar habitat (Credit: NASA/Jeff Caplan).

NASA's inflatable lunar basic unit after deployment

Both of these pictures come from a short video available from the NASA news release. Here is also a direct link to this movie via Akamai (QuickTime format).

Here are some details about this inflatable structure delivered by NASA contractor ILC Dover, LP.

As a starting point, ILC Dover has delivered a 12-foot (3.65 meter) diameter inflatable structure made of multilayer fabric to Langley for ground-based evaluation of emerging technologies such as flexible structural health monitoring systems, self-healing materials and radiation protective materials. Attached to the structure is a smaller inflatable structure that serves as a demonstration airlock. Both are essentially pressurized cylinders, connected by an airtight door.
The "planetary surface habitat and airlock unit" can also be used to evaluate materials, lightweight structure technologies, astronaut interfaces, dust mitigation techniques, and function with robotics and other lunar surface equipment.

And NASA is also working on other inflatable structures.

In a related development, the government-industry team -- spurred by a NASA Johnson proposal led by Larry Toups, space architect at Johnson -- will work with the National Science Foundation to build an inflatable structure for demonstration in the Antarctic. While not the lunar surface (or the top of an imaginary mountain), the harsh environment of the Antarctic will provide valuable lessons.
Once inflated, the unit will likely serve as a dry storage facility and be monitored for its behavior. The work is expected to start shortly. ILC Dover is contributing to the manufacturing of the unit, while Langley and Johnson will contribute a modest amount of manpower. The goal is to transport the unit to the Antarctic in 2008 -- in time to learn more about inflatable structures before decisions must be made between competing technologies for NASA's first habitable lunar base.

For more information about ILC Dover technologies related to this project from NASA, you can read several pages on their site about Space Inflatables, Inflatable Space & Planetary Habitats and Deployable Lunar Habitat.

And if you want to look at more exotic projects for lunar camps, please read a full history of NASA's Lunar Base Designs (Last update: October 25, 2006).

Sources: NASA news release, February 23, 2007; and various other websites

You'll find related stories by following the links below.

Topic: Nasa / Space

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  • not sci-fi enough?

    Perhaps to kids these days, but when I grew up in the 50's, this is exactly what the sci-fi artists were drawing!

    If I live to see these things on the moon, and people living in them, I will die happy knowing that finally, however late, Robert Heinlein was right!
    rwahrens1952