Original image
Wikimedia Commons

15 Ambitious Plans to Colonize the Moon

Original image
Wikimedia Commons

Back in 1638, clergyman John Wilkins wrote an entire science fiction book devoted to the prospect of a lunar voyage. In Discovery of a World in the Moon, he proposed different methods of traveling to the Moon—including an idea where “large birds might be trained to carry the traveller aloft.” Contrary to many other astronomers in the 17th century, Wilkins insisted that the Moon was made of solid matter that human beings could walk and live on. Since Wilkins’ radical proposal, many others have followed in his footsteps by dreaming of ways we could live on the moon.

1. Electromagnetic Cannons

In 1954, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke proposed the idea of constructing a lunar base with inflatable modules covered in lunar dust for insulation. These modules—similar to igloos—would be equipped with an inflatable radio mast, algae-based air purifiers, and nuclear reactors. Clarke even went so far as to predict the use of electromagnetic cannons to blast cargo to interplanetary ships in space.

2. The Lunex Project

In 1958, the U.S. Air Force researched an expedition plan called the Lunex Project, which called for the 1967 deployment of a 21-airman underground lunar base and was expected to cost $7.5 billion.

3. Floating Moon Base

Amid beliefs that the Moon was comprised of mile-deep dust oceans, John S. Rinehart wrote an essay proposing floating Moon bases in 1959. His idea involved creating vessels that could float in the dust oceans within half-cylinders that linked different areas. The pathway would be created with a micrometeoroid shield to protect travelers.

4. Project Horizon

Also in 1959, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency presented the U.S. Army with plans for a Lunar Military Outpost, which would be manned by 12 soldiers and was predicted to cost somewhere around $6 billion. The outpost would be situated somewhere near the Eratosthenes crater or the Montes Apenninus mountain range, and would even be equipped with nuclear warheads and modified Claymore mines to guard against overland attacks. Soldiers would command lunar vehicles to haul cargo, explore the surface of the Moon, and rescue people in distress; a parabolic antenna would be used to communicate with Earth.

5. Sub-Surface Colonies

In 1962, two engineers—John DeNike and Stanley Zahn—published a possible lunar base model in Aerospace Engineering. They believed that the ideal location would be within the Sea of Tranquility, a large crater on the Moon’s surface that later became the site of first Apollo lunar landing in 1969. Most of the lunar base, operated by 21 crewmembers, would be linked by underground tunnels beneath the Moon’s surface to guard against radiation poisoning.

6. Lunar Farming

Currently, NASA is researching farming methods for Moon colonies and astronauts on lengthy missions. These crops would have a dual purpose: the plants would provide astronauts with a healthy diet and also replace toxic carbon dioxide with oxygen. But growing crops on the Moon is obviously nothing like farming on Earth; scientists must figure out the perfect combination of light, temperature, and carbon dioxide to grow plants outside of Earth’s atmosphere. NASA is currently studying varieties of radishes, lettuce, and green onions within plant growth chambers where samples are grown hydroponically using nutrient-enriched fluid inside hydroponic chambers.

7. The Lunar Noah’s Ark

Scientists at the European Space Agency believe that the Moon is a perfect place to store human DNA in the case of a global disaster. While some scientists have been collecting the DNA of endangered species for years, others are beginning to entertain the idea of collecting human DNA for future research or creating unique organisms. If these DNA samples were stored on the Moon in a dry, cold, and protected environment, they could last for thousands of years—so if an asteroid, nuclear war, or a widespread virus wiped out most of humanity, DNA samples would be stored safely on the Moon to continue the human race.

8. Lunar Observatories

Many astronomers have discussed the possibility of constructing a lunar observatory on the Moon’s surface, which would give them a far better view of the universe than what they can currently see from Earth. Since the Moon does not have an atmosphere, wind or clouds would not blur the view from a telescope. Even better: If scientists could place a telescope on the far side of the Moon (the side that constantly faces away from the Earth), radio interference would completely disappear. However, astronomers are quick to point out that the Moon (especially the far side) is an extreme environment that is not easily inhabitable.

9. The International Park

On November 5 of this year, Popular Science published an article about why we should consider making the Moon an international park. It’s been almost 45 years since Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin first set foot on the Moon—and now that space exploration and lunar colonies are closer to becoming a reality, some believe that the world should establish boundaries for the Moon’s use, and that the historic sites of the Apollo lunar landings need to be preserved for future generations. This past summer, Congress reviewed a bill to eventually nominate the landing locations as a UNESCO World Heritage site. This bill, however, could conflict with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Accepted by 101 countries, the treaty declares that “no nation can claim the Moon as sovereign territory,” which is an official prerequisite for nomination.

10. A Stepping Stone for Future Colonies

Some astronomers argue that lunar colonization could serve as a model for future colonies on other planets. While NASA has simulators that mimic life on the surface of the Moon, these simulators do not compare to the firsthand experience that astronauts would gather from living on the Moon. Every experience, whether good or bad, would affect and improve future technology and safety standards for other colonies.

11. Lunar Lava Tube Outpost

In 2010, scientists discovered a lunar lava tube—a giant hole in the Moon’s surface covered with a thin layer of lava. Scientists believe that this thin sheet of lava could protect inhabitants from extreme temperatures and meteorite impacts. The lava tubes are stable structures within the Moon that have been carved out by lava flows, volcanic eruptions, or seismic activity.

12. Moon Capital

Also in 2010, the Moon Capital Competition created a contest to encourage designers to create potential models for a lunar habitat. Ideally, the habitat would be an underground commercial center that could support 60 staffers. The competition encouraged contestants to create designs that could be self-sufficient with food supplies and regenerative life support. The models were designed as multi-faceted sites that could sustain commercial, scientific, and technological development. Within the capital, several different activities could take place, including growing food, manufacturing equipment for labs and vehicles, and prospecting for minerals.

13. Lunar Space Elevator

As colonies grow and develop on the Moon’s surface, transportation will need to develop accordingly. Some scientists have put forth the idea of a lunar space elevator, which would act as a docking station. This station would allow cargo and important supplies to be more easily transported between Earth and the Moon. For instance, astronauts could mine materials from a lunar well and lift them by elevator to a convenient docking station. The materials could then be picked up and carried back to Earth. Scientists also argue that the space elevator would reduce launch costs for vessels traveling from Earth to the Moon. These benefits could aid in future space exploration.

14. U.S., Japanese, and Russian Moon Colonies

Similar to the space race that dominated the 1960s, countries are racing to develop the first manned lunar base. In 2006, Japan announced its goal of building a lunar base by 2030. Satoki Kurokawa from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency explained that their Moon base would be essential for the development of robotics.

In 2007, Russia announced a similar plan: they would establish a permanent base on the moon by 2025. Unlike Japan, however, Russia’s goal focuses more on lunar tourism. Most of the revenue for Russia’s space agency has come from space tourist flights. Tickets were priced at $30 million and at least five wealthy adventurers have purchased those tickets for space travel.

During the 2012 election, even Newt Gingrich proposed the construction of a lunar colony—although most Americans determined his plan was too far-fetched. Gingrich declared that by 2020, an American base would be built on the Moon’s surface.

15. Lunar Boom Town

Lunar Boom Town is “a set of strategic engineering simulations intended to help interested parties and organization with research and education efforts"—essentially, an open-source platform where participants can discuss and refine issues associated with Moon colonization. Business plans created so far for a Lunar Boom Town include air plants, chicken farms, casinos, and even a McDonald’s.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]