A Space Tent Could Revolutionize Moon Exploration

NASA has no plans to go back to the moon anytime soon. But when they do, science will have come a long way from the late Apollo missions. In particular, aerospace engineers at MIT have designed an elegant solution to one of the most pressing issues surrounding lunar research: The inability to spend any significant time on the moon's surface.

So far, any exploration of the moon has been severely limited by how far astronauts can roam from their lunar lander in a single jaunt. What could really revolutionize this process is the option to remain overnight away from the lunar lander. So the MIT team, led by Samuel Schreiner, built a space-compatible tent. The two-person mobile overnight habitat consists of an inflatable pod; a reflective shield to prevent the sun’s rays from roasting explorers; life support systems on the rover that will supply oxygen, water, and food, maintain the habitat's temperature, scrub out carbon dioxide, and remove excess humidity; and a flexible roll-out solar array to supply the shelter’s power and recharge the rover's batteries. Inflatable pressurized tubes would serve as support ribs for the 425-cubic-foot pill-shaped space.

The most important aspects of the hypothetical tent are its portable size and weight. Right now, the model folds up to be about half the size of an average refrigerator and weighs in at 273 pounds. Schreiner says that as the design is further developed for use, "the mass and volume of the system often increase by about 20 to 30 percent, but that still puts our design in a reasonable range."

There are still a number of kinks to get worked out—electrostatically-charged moon dust tracked in on the outside of the space suits could present a health risk—but whenever NASA is ready to go back to the moon, there's a tent in the works that could effectively double the explorable space.

[h/t Popular Science]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
Engineers Have Figured Out How the Leaning Tower of Pisa Withstands Earthquakes
iStock
iStock

Builders had barely finished the second floor of the Tower of Pisa when the structure started to tilt. Despite foundational issues, the project was completed, and eight centuries and at least four major earthquakes later, the precarious landmark remains standing. Now, a team of engineers from the University of Bristol and other institutions claims to have finally solved the mystery behind its endurance.

Pisa is located between the Arno and Serchio rivers, and the city's iconic tower was built on soft ground consisting largely of clay, shells, and fine sand. The unstable foundation meant the tower had been sinking little by little until 2008, when construction workers removed 70 metric tons of soil to stabilize the site. Today it leans at a 4-degree angle—about 13 feet past perfectly vertical.

Now researchers say that the dirt responsible for the tower's lean also played a vital role in its survival. Their study, which will be presented at this year's European Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Greece, shows that the combination of the tall, stiff tower with the soft soil produced an effect known as dynamic soil-structure interaction, or DSSI. During an earthquake, the tower doesn't move and shake with the earth the same way it would with a firmer, more stable foundation. According to the engineers, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is the world's best example of the effects of DSSI.

"Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the tower to the verge of collapse can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events," study co-author George Mylonakis said in a statement.

The tower's earthquake-proof foundation was an accident, but engineers are interested in intentionally incorporating the principles of DSSI into their structures—as long as they can keep them upright at the same time.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
LLPA
U2’s 360-Degree Tour Stage Will Become a Utah Aquarium Attraction
LLPA
LLPA

The immense stage that accompanied U2 on the band’s 360° Tour from 2009 to 2011 is getting an unexpected second life as a Utah educational attraction. It will soon be installed over a new plaza at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium outside Salt Lake City.

The Claw, a 165-foot-tall structure shaped like a large spaceship balanced on four legs—a design inspired by the space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport—was built to house a massive speaker system and cylindrical video screen for the band’s performances. Underneath it, a 360° stage allowed U2 to play to audiences surrounding the structure in all directions. To make it easier to tour 30 different countries with the elaborate system, which took more than a week to put together at each concert location, the band had several versions built.

U2 and its management have been looking for a buyer for the 190-ton structures since the tour ended in 2011, and it seems they have finally found a home for one of them. One of the two remaining Claw structures is coming to the Utah aquarium, where it’s being installed as part of a plaza at the institution’s new, 9-acre Science Learning Campus.

A four-legged, industrial-looking video-and-sound-projection rig rises over a crowd at a concert
The Claw at a Dublin concert in 2009
Kristian Strøbech, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the only Claw in the U.S., the alien-looking feat of engineering will be "preserved and sustainably repurposed as a Utah landmark and symbol of science exploration and learning," according to the aquarium's press release. As part of the expansion project, the 2300-square-foot stage system will play host to festivals, movies, and other special events in two venues, one with 7000 seats and the other with 350.

The $25 million Science Learning Campus hasn’t been built yet—construction is starting this fall—so you’ll have to wait awhile to relive your U2 concert experience at the aquarium.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios