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]