Our Mission › Forums › Week 3 › AMA – Ask Me Anything! › Ask me anything! With Mehak Sarang, Lunar Hackathon co-Lead, Space Exploration Initiative, Becca Browder, Lunar Hackathon co-Lead, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Rachel Bellisle, Lunar Hackathon Outreach Lead, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program › Welcome to our AMA!
April 9, 2020 at 10:39 am #721msarangModerator
Hi there! I’m Mehak Sarang, Staff Researcher at the MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative, and co-lead of the To the Moon to Stay Hackathon. I’m looking forward to joining you all today for our ‘ask me anything’ forum along with my colleagues Becca Browder and Rachel Bellisle to talk all things lunar exploration!
April 9, 2020 at 10:45 am #722bbrowderModerator
Hi everyone! I’m Becca Browder, Mehak’s co-lead on the To the Moon to Stay Hackathon. I’m a graduate student at MIT doing a dual degree in Aeronautics & Astronautics (aka aerospace engineering) and Technology & Policy. We’re excited to talk with you today!
April 9, 2020 at 10:47 am #723bellisleModerator
Hello! I’m Rachel Bellisle, a Ph.D. student in Medical Engineering in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences in Technology Program and the Outreach Coordinator for To The Moon to Stay. My research focuses on human spaceflight and how we can allow humans to live and work safely in space! I’m excited to answer your questions about lunar exploration!
April 9, 2020 at 11:36 am #726Joe DiazKeymaster
Hi Mehak, Becca, and Rachel! Why is it important that we think about returning to the Moon?
April 9, 2020 at 11:50 am #734msarangModerator
Hey Joe – thanks for your question!
Since the U.S. first set foot on the Moon about 50 years ago, six missions returned as part of the Apollo Program. Part of the reason we sent so many astronauts was to collect data on the Moon – and part of that data would be really helpful for any return missions. The next step after proving we could get to the Moon was, logically, proving we could keep humans up there! Unfortunately, the Apollo missions cost a lot of money, and we haven’t been able to fund anything at the same scale since then.
But now, 50 years later, we don’t have to fund the mission, or get to the Moon alone! There are lots of countries that have sent orbiters, landers, and even plants to the Moon including China, Russia, and India. There are even companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX that want to send private missions to the Moon!
These people are interested in the Moon for a few reasons:
1) It’s relatively close! Getting to the Moon takes just a few days (for comparison, going to Mars would take months!).
2) There might be water ice trapped in the polar regions. Humans need water to survive, so if we can access the water ice at the polar regions, then it gives us a good chance at making a sustainable settlement on the Moon.
3) It could help us get to other destinations in our own solar system! Just like we learned a lot about human spaceflight thanks to the years of research done by astronauts and scientists on board the International Space Station, we could learn a lot about long-term space exploration and spaceflight by returning to the Moon. Maybe one day, it’ll help us get to Mars!
But it’s more than that! Space exploration is valuable for a lot of reasons, best summed up by this statement from Dr. Scott Pace, who serves on the National Space Council in the U.S.:
Human space flight is probably the most interdisciplinary
scientific and technical activity that this country can engage
in, much broader than biotech, IT, any of the other particular
fields because you really have all fields have to come together
to pull off a successful mission. It is incredibly, incredibly
hard. But that is where really the benefit is from pushing into
the unknown. So I would say as part of your portfolio of
activities that humans have to be part of it because they do
represent this really challenging interdisciplinary problem
that is really unique. And it should be part of our national
portfolio because there is nothing that replaces the symbolism,
the emotion, the connection that it makes not only to the
American people but also to our partners around the world.
Ad astra, folks!
April 9, 2020 at 12:41 pm #745bellisleModerator
To follow up on Mehak’s response, there is a lot that we can learn by returning to the Moon!
In addition to searching for water in the polar regions and looking at lunar geology, we can also study human performance on an extraterrestrial planetary surface. Current extravehicular activities (EVAs or spacewalks) on the International Space Station occur in microgravity. During upcoming missions to the Moon, astronauts will need to walk, run, or otherwise locomote in their spacesuits for the first time in 50 years. We need to understand how the reduced gravity of the moon (about 17% of the gravity on Earth) affects locomotion and the energy & consumables required to perform EVAs. We’ll also need to assess our spacesuits to ensure that astronauts have the mobility and comfort required for locomotion and other required activities.
Our return to the Moon is also an important stepping stone towards Mars! While it will only take a few days to get to the Moon, the trip to Mars will take months. Crews will also need to be more autonomous on Mars, because communication with Earth could be delayed by up to 20 min. If an emergency were to occur on Mars, the crew members will need to be equipped to handle the situation. On the Moon, we can test our capabilities and technologies in closer proximity on Earth and while having access to ground-personnel.
By returning to the Moon, we can expand our current knowledge, advance our technological capabilities, and prepare for future human exploration! Space exploration can also benefit life on Earth. Knowledge of the Moon can help us to understand our own planet, and technology developed for space can often be translated for applications on Earth! For example, the technology used for camera phones was first developed for a spacecraft!
April 9, 2020 at 11:37 am #727averymsnormandinModerator
Hi, everyone! I have read in a couple of places that researchers are trying to use moon dust for 3D printers. Could you describe this a bit more? What are they hoping to print? And why moon dust?!
April 9, 2020 at 11:46 am #730bbrowderModerator
Avery, this is a great question! You’ve touched on two pieces of technology that are key to lunar exploration: 1) in-situ resource utilization and 2) additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing.
In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) refers to the process of using materials that exist “in situ,” or at the site being explored. It takes a lot of resources to get to the Moon (or other celestial bodies), so long-term exploration will be easier if we’re able to use materials that already exist on the Moon, rather than having to bring everything from Earth. That’s why researchers are trying to figure out how to build things from moon dust!
Additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing) refers to the technology that involves building up layers of material using a printer to create a product. This is in contrast to traditional subtractive manufacturing, in which machinery removes material in order to create the final product. 3D printing will be key to sustainable exploration because it will allow us to send robots to the Moon to start building infrastructure such as habitats, so that they’ll already be set up by the time astronauts arrive. Once astronauts arrive, 3D printing will also allow them to create replacement parts out of raw material. This means that instead of having to bring multiple replacements for every critical part, we can fly a bunch of raw material to the Moon and then make parts only as needed. 3D printers have already been used in microgravity–the company Made in Space has two 3D printers on the International Space Station that are used to create tools for astronauts!
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