Monday, June 25, 2007

How to Design a Lunar Exploration Station Without a PhD

Speaking of interviews (in my last post), here's one I did a while ago with two young students with great promise for our space program (this interview first appeared in Beyond Centauri):

You don’t need to be an adult to assemble and run a lunar exploration station (LES) says Michael Arbeider, age 12. All you need is lots of imagination, a loyal and capable imaginary crew and good tools like a helpful teacher and Google, of course.

When I discovered that Michael Arbeider and his school buddy, Steve Da Costa, designed a Lunar Exploration Station, I interviewed them and here’s what they had to say:

NM: So, what prompted you boys to embark on this fascinating venture?

Both: Our teacher!

MA: Our Grade six teacher, Mrs. Cawker.

SDC: Yeah, she did it as part of the curriculum requirement on space and technology.

NM: So, tell me a little about this station. What were your criteria?

MA: Well, we had to come up with a design for the station and to run it for one month with a small team of specialists.

SDC: We had to draw up a team of ten specialists to pilot the spacecraft to the moon and run the lunar station. They had to run experiments and carry out the mission.

NM: Which was?

MA: To find fuel. And to figure out if it was efficient to run a full mining operation there.

NM: And did the criteria include limitations? Like space or time or money?

SDC: We had to transport everything the crew would need to live there for a month. We had to come up with what supplies and technology we would need to bring with us. It had to be existing technology that we already have and use in closed environments like spacecraft and submarines.

MA: We were given 15 squares to represent the cargo hold of our spaceship. The teacher gave us the values that things like people, air, water, technology, outdoor survival and moon transportation would take up and we had to decide how much of everything to take.

NM: How did you do your research for all this?

MA: We used Google mostly, because the internet has the most current information on available technologies. We also used Encarta.

NM: Tell me a little about your station. How will you get your food? Do you bring it all with you?

SDC: Only a week’s worth. The rest of the time we’ll get our food through the hydroponics greenhouse. It will be better than a regular greenhouse because it uses water, which is lighter and will be easier to transport. The water is also filled with nutrients, which will make the plants grow much faster. We’ll grow protein-rich soy bean, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, spinach, tomatoes and beans. The greenhouse is filled with super clean water and we’ll use it for our drinking water.

NM: How will you run your station? How will you generate power?

MA: We’ll use solar panels, which will work well on the moon because there’s no atmosphere or clouds to block out the sun’s rays. Our panels will be positioned in a broad area to catch more of the sun’s rays as it rises and sets on the moon. Our panels have special light sensors on them so they’ll activate only when the sun reaches them. The electical battery attaches to the solar panels to store power to provide a constant source of electricity even when the panels are in the dark.

SDC: We’ll also use hydrogen power cells.

NM: As in hydrogen fuel cells?

SDC: Eh, yeah. For power and to create super clean water for drinking. The hydrogen cells work like a battery. They do this by merging hydrogen and oxygen in a container with a conductor in the center. When hydrogen and oxygen merge, they create a small electric charge that can be collected by the conductor and sent to our battery. The benefit to hydrogen power is that it merges the hydrogen and oxygen separated from our dirty water by algae, to create water, so it’s two things in one: a water cleanser and a source of power for our station.

NM: So the algae split the water using sunlight?

SDC: Yeah. Hydrogen is then collected and transported as a compressed gas to the fuel cells. The hydrogen cells also provide us with the hydrogen for the explosives we need to do the mining.

MA: The station will use two kinds of power, hydraulic and electrical. The hydraulic power rams operate mechanical things like doors and hatches and the electrical power will handle all the other stuff like the lights, heat, air purification and the rover.

NM: What about the air? How will you get it and how will you keep it usable?

MA: We’ll bring the air with us. It’s part of our original payload, like the hydroponic unit and the technology. The air will be cleaned through a filter that removes the dirt particles and carbon dioxide. Our air cleaner does this by retrieving the dirty air from our station sent in through vents and air ducts. When the air passes through the filter, it gets cleaned and sent back into our station so it can be used again. Our air cleaner lets us use the same air over and over again. Just like spaceships that go to the moon do right now.

NM: What about your mission, to find fuel sources to mine and refine and research the feasibility of this venture?

MA: That’s a good question. You first, Steve.

SDC: No, you first. I insist.

NM: Well, what’s this “Labydo Do it Fast” I see marked on your schematic?

MA: It’s a rock/fuel research and excavation station. The Labydo has a fuel tester that figures out the kind and quality of the fossil fuel that we find, a rock research unit to see where we should plant the explosives and a pilot refinery to see if the rocks are refinable.

SDC: We’ll also use a rover to get to our excavation sites in the mining tunnels that we make. A battery operates the rover because gasoline won’t work in almost zero gravity. The rover, which weighs 465 pounds on Earth, would only weigh 72 lb on the moon.

MA: The miners will use space suits in the underground tunnels. They’ll be stored with the rover and airlocked. Besides air, the space suits will also provide heat and cooling in the fingertips.

NM: When you’re not working, how will you amuse yourselves?

MA: We’ll have work-out stations to stay in shape because of the low gravity. And see these? (He points to the schematic). They’re bean bag chairs: they serve two purposes, to sit on and in bean bag wars.

NM: Eh, sounds like fun. And therapeutic. What about your crew? Who will they be?

MA: Well, there’s Steve and I, of course. I’ll be captain of the craft, mission specialist and social coordinator. Steve, who’ll be second in command, will serve as chief mechanical and robotics engineer and games specialist.

NM: Ah, like bingo?…

Both: Huh?

SDC: And then there’s Marie Langlios, the botanist and doctor; Hank Simpson, the navigator and geologist; Kenney Cartmen, the explosive devices expert; Nefertiti Tut, the payload specialist, assistant miner and a fossil fuel refiner; Homer Hill, our electronic systems specialist; Andrea Griffin, our rover technologist; and Franko Antenelli, our communications specialist …

MA: Yeah, and don’t forget Jack Affro, the jack-of-all trades.

MN: As in your janitor and maybe the most important person on your mission?

Both: Gee, we never thought of that . . .

Which is why I’m doing the interviewing…
You can find the original url for the images at the following sources in order of image appearance: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Kai said...

That sounds like an interesting project they had to do. I wish my grade six teacher had an assignment that cool.

Anonymous said...

Oh this was fascinating. Thank-you Nina for sharing this with us. I worked with Middle School students and these students never cease to amaze me...

Alan said...

I only remember reading about space travel and living on the moon at that age and there they are virtually doing it. Way cool. Maybe these youngsters will be the one to bring about the space age our sci fi books have depicted for so long...

sfgirl said...

Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I kept forgetting that these kids were only 12 years old! What amazed me too was how proficient they were with internet search engines and how to sift out relevant information. I give lots of credit to the teacher for coming up with such an imaginative project and letting the kids go.