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NASA Moon Space Technology

New Method Discovered For Making Telescopes On the Moon 135

NASA scientists have discovered a way to craft very large mirrors using carbon nanotubes, some epoxy, a little bit of aluminum, and large quantities of lunar dust. They say the technique will allow the construction of massive telescopes on the moon without the expense and risk of transporting the mirrors from Earth. Douglas Rabin of the Goddard Space Flight Center is quoted saying, "Our method could be scaled-up on the moon, using the ubiquitous lunar dust, to create giant telescope mirrors up to 50 meters in diameter." While this breakthrough was relatively cheap, NASA is currently offering up to $10 million for other good lunar research projects.
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New Method Discovered For Making Telescopes On the Moon

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  • dustbuster (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:19PM (#23694265)
    so .. after the mirrors are finished. how do they propose to keep the mirrors dustfree ?
  • But it takes forever to count out 12 quatrillion nanotubes for the recipe.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This should prove a useful means of allowing whalers on the moon to see their prey, which are mostly stuck on Earth.
  • by thesandbender ( 911391 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:21PM (#23694281)
    using carbon nanotubes, some epoxy, a little bit of aluminum, and large quantities of lunar dust Is there anything he can't do?
  • Aluminum? (Score:3, Funny)

    by gadget junkie ( 618542 ) <gbponz@libero.it> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:24PM (#23694307) Journal
    From the article:

    "After that, all we needed to do was coat the mirror blank with a small amount of aluminum, and voilÃ, we had a highly reflective telescope mirror," says Rabin.

    .....I DO hope that they'll use their tinfoil hat instead of mine!!!!!!
  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:25PM (#23694321)
    Forget your stupid observatory! I'm gonna make my own! With hookers! And blackjack! In fact, forget the observatory!
  • by monopole ( 44023 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:33PM (#23694371)
    Taking away good American mirror grinding jobs and sending them to the moon (probably to be made by illegal aliens) while depriving FedEx of the shipping revenue!
    Somebody contact Lou Dobbs!
  • by J'ai Friedpork ( 1293672 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:34PM (#23694377) Homepage
    ...cannot wait to see some mad scientist use this technology to turn the moon into one giant magnifying mirror and having a nice game of "ants on the sidewalk." (And of course, the obligatory welcome to our new super-reflective overlords. Sigh.)
  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:37PM (#23694399)
    ... for making telescopes on the moon?
  • Ingenious (Score:5, Informative)

    by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:37PM (#23694403)

    using carbon nanotubes, some epoxy, a little bit of aluminum, and large quantities of lunar dust.

    Heck, the first thing that came to my mind was "When did NASA hire MacGyver?" :-) Anyway, the process sounds quite reasonable. And Moon would make a wonderful observatory. I have been dreaming about lunar observatories since I was a kid quarter a century ago (at that time, I stumbled upon books written by a well-known local popular science writer).

    No atmosphere, sixth the gravity, little need for compensating the structure deformations? Sounds good. The question is how heavy the manufacturing equipment would be. And there might more problems at least with optical telescopers - I recently stumbled upon a nice article [space.com] on this topic.

    • The problem that I see is that they will first have to build the fabrication facility and if they are going to spin a 50m morror that is going to be one large building.
      • Why do you need a building? What "elements" are you protecting the fabrication facility from?
        • Re:Ingenious..But (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Torvaun ( 1040898 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @04:32PM (#23695671)

          What "elements" are you protecting the fabrication facility from?
          The solid ones that leave craters.
        • I was thingking more about maintaing the state of the paste while it is spun and cures so that it does not freeze or boil off depending on the amount on sunlight hiting it.
          • Good God. You have like 2 weeks to do the work during the "day". The Epoxy is going to have to survive exposure to those temperatures in vacuum anyway. If the uncured epoxy boils at temperatures seen on the lunar surface, then it's probably not the appropriate choice; and, most epoxies cure faster if heated. If it doesn't set up within two weeks (minus the time to mix and pour) then you're in trouble.
  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:46PM (#23694465)

    How cool would it be to design and build huge projects in 1/6 gravity? There would have to be some incredible designs that would just be too fragile to stand up under Earth atmosphere and gravity, and the range of materials you could use would seem limitless. Maybe a nest of lasers to give a long-term boost to an interstellar probe?

    There's got to be huge advantages to building in a lunar environment, with raw materials available right there, and the chance to create living space just by drilling and sealing instead of fabricating from scratch.

    • ....There's got to be huge advantages to building in a lunar environment, with raw materials available right there, and the chance to create living space just by drilling and sealing instead of fabricating from scratch.

      And huge disadvantages as well...think where will NASA hire workers that will agree to comute everyday to the moon to build that thing...and don't even get me started on the food they serve there it tastes like astronaut food... =)
    • You should read this paper then about self-replicating moon robots with lasers to make more robots. http://www.islandone.org/MMSG/aasm/ [islandone.org] They could make pretty much anything up there, and shoot it to Earth, via giant coilguns.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @01:52PM (#23694497)
    "They headed towards the dish on that large space station...."

    "That's no space station. It's a moon!"

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "They headed towards the dish on that large space station...."

      "That's no space station. It's a moon!"

      That's no satellite. It's the m... Wait...

  • When you are the moon, there is a person people say is the sun. I saw the sun once, and he came past me, really fast. And it was an, it was called, the, an eclipse. And he came fast! But as he came past, I, I licked his back.

    And he doesn't know I licked his back! All in his yellow suit!

    I'm the moon.
  • Doesn't it get really hot where the sun shines on the moon, because of the lack of atmosphere?
  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:25PM (#23694703)
    Sure transporting carbon nano-tubes and some expoxy and aluminum to the moon might not be to bad, but did anyone think of the "next" step?

    They next applied additional layers of epoxy and spun the material at room temperature.

    Getting a large enough volume at room temperature (assuming you need some air pressure too) on the moon to mix it with epoxy and spin it (also presumably at room temperature) might be pretty hard to do without some bulky equipment. Although vacuum coating the mirror blank might seem easier on the moon, as other commentors noted, how do you keep it dust free?

    So to summarize...

    1. Bring epoxy, carbon nanotubes, aluminum and big spinner to the moon
    2. ???
    3. Coat resulting lunar dust blank with aluminum to make a mirror
    4. Profit?!? (until it's covered with dust)
    • by jeepien ( 848819 )

      ... as other commentors noted, how do you keep it dust free?
      Just don't spill any dust on it, and it will stay dust free.
      There's no wind on the moon, so dust doesn't blow around. The dust on the ground is no more likely to jump up and land on the mirror than a boulder would be.
    • by Esteanil ( 710082 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @04:16PM (#23695563) Homepage Journal
      The footprints the first astronauts left on the moon 39 years ago is still preserved.
      The moon lacking an atmosphere, and there as such being no weather, the moon dust is quite stable.
      It only shifts when something (like an astronaut's boot or a meteorite) pushes it, so the odds of a mirror staying largely dust-free are pretty good.
      As to spinning stuff in room temperature on the moon... That part sounds harder :p
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, there are static electric potentials set up as the moon passes through Earth's magnetotail and also as the terminator passes over the surface. These are believed to kick dust up -- we have some evidence from equipment left by Apollo astronauts. To be honest, we won't know for certain until we go back and look.

        Astronaut 1} "OK, you stand there and tell me what happens."

        Astronaut 2} "Ok..."

        Astronaut 1 runs away

        Astronaut 2} "Hey, where are you going???"


        Astronaut 2} "You asshole. That h

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        It's the meteorites that I'd worry about. The moon, having no atmosphere, gets impacted a lot more than earth.
    • A lunar vacuum cleaner perhaps?
  • Using a ingenious new method of buzzword combination, scientists found a way to get funding to do what they want to do, selling it as method to do whatever the funding agency wants, wherever they need it. A new, more ambitious project, will employ nanotubes enhanced with teraherts waves, as a bio-reactor to create biodiesel, clean coal, and solve global warming, creating just the right amount of tritium needed to feed their fusion generator.
    • That's true. Nanotubes mixed with dust is nothing special. ANY fibrous material mixed in with a binder will produce a composite structure with great strength.

      tubes and lunar dust is not much different from mud and straw.
  • by skoda ( 211470 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @02:44PM (#23694869) Homepage
    Astronomical telescope mirror manufacturing is a labor intensive, hands-on, non-automated process. And the culture of aerospace is highly risk averse: this comes from the very customers, like the good people at NASA Goddard.

    Lunar telescope manufacturing would require some exciting scientific, engineer, and processing improvements that would also pay off for terrestrial manufacturing.

    First, assuming they're not planning to house and employ a standard aerospace company, with 1000 engineers, technicians, and managers on the moon, this would be fully automated. Mirror making is anything but automated. The development of highly automated methods for processing and testing mirrors would be quite a move forward. It would also have direct benefits for conventional manufacturing.

    Second, making a mirror on the moon would seem to require a tolerance of risk currently not accepted. Every time a mirror is moved, a crew of people must oversee the affair, sign the (physical) paperwork, and manually inspect the mirror afterwards. For lunar construction, this would have to become an assembly line that ran without that direct oversight, paperwork, or crews. Enabling more efficient methods would certainly benefit normal processes as well.

    Moreover, the task of creating such a facility would keep many, many aerospace workers employed for years :)
    • A quibble here. Why is an "aerospace" company making telescopes on the Moon? Shouldn't it be say an "optics" company?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sorry for posting as AC, I've been a lurker on these boards for too long.

      http://www.sciencefriday.com/newsbriefs/read/113 [sciencefriday.com]

      Anyways, a professor in my physics departement, Ermanno Borra, has been working on a very similar concept for about 20 years. And honestly, it has become pretty much a running joke, seeing how much money he's getting from the government, although he has very few results to show.

      He works on liquid mirrors. It uses a liquid that is preferably ferromagnetic and covered with a thin film of si
      • ... you'll have to keep your mirror looking up, at all times. So you either place it on the pole, in which case it will be looking at the same place for a very, very long time (until precession slowly moves it around). This is good for doing very deep fields, but hasn't much use otherwise since if there's nothing interesting to look at there, you're stuck there anyways. Or you can place it anywhere else than the pole, but then you're never gonna look at a given object for more than a couple seconds.

        A cou

  • Someday... (Score:3, Funny)

    by FurtiveGlancer ( 1274746 ) <AdHocTechGuy&aol,com> on Saturday June 07, 2008 @03:00PM (#23694979) Journal
    Humans will be living on the moon and this means they'll probably be living in glass houses.
  • While this sounds like a great idea, I want more information before I accept their "Eureka!". How much weight is actually saved? What percentage of this 'lunar concrete' will be lunar dust, and how much of it will be materials brought up from space?

    How is it going to be aluminum plated? To use the minimal amount of aluminum here on earth, we would use electroplating - which requires that the entire dish be put in an electroplating tank - and that's going to be one big tank! I am not so sure that you can get
    • Astronomical mirrors are plated by evaporating aluminum in a vacuum. Material requirements are very small.

      Once the epoxy has hardened, it can be moved. The mirror can be put in an aimable mount like any other telescope mirror.

      My concern is whether this technique actually produces high quality mirrors. Will they be smooth enough and properly shaped? Epoxies do not generally keep a constant volume as they cure, and this will tend to distort the mirror. The forces shaping the mirror (gravity and centrifugal)

  • The pseudo-nanotechnology people are a pain. Especially when they work for NASA. They make some minor improvement in materials science, then call a press conference to announce giant telescopes on the moon.

    Let's see those guys produce one good-sized mirror without polishing before turning on the NASA PR machine.

  • It would be nice if they could create inexpensive shatter-proof windows here on Earth using this technology....and the fact that it contains aluminium means that perhaps the windows could be used to generate solar power...
    • Unless you can see through an opaque substance, you're kind of out of luck. They're manufacturing a type of concrete, which is used as a backing for that thin layer of aluminum. The aluminum does all the reflecting and carries the entire load of useful optical phenomena. Glass is used for mirrors not because of it's transparency, but because of the mechanical and manufacturing properties of melted silica sand. Light doesn't go through an optical mirror, it bounces right off.

      So although you could make a

  • If we're thinking about people stationed on the moon, living in habitats big enough to not go nuts in, with either on site energy generation, oxygen production and food supplies, or all of these things shipped in, then I don't see how making and transporting large mirrors in parts and assembling them on the moon is such a complex task. Especially when contrasted against making the thing in situ, in an environment we aren't familiar with, is very deadly and experimental. Think about the factory that would ha
  • Aren't methods "invented" or "developed", rather than "discovered"?
  • And how much will the giant shield (aka atmosphere) cost to protect this mirror from all the meteorites and various junk flying around out there?
    • It doesn't matter. Each impact to the mirror would merely reduce the light collecting ability of the whole by the %age of the area that is occluded. Try putting a spot on a lens, and see the effect it has on the image. There won't be a spot visible, but the whole image will dim a bit.

      Assuming the build the mirror in sections of course...so impacts don't crack the entire thing.
  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @06:02PM (#23696401) Homepage
    Just reading TFA and thinking that, after reading the sentence "When they mixed small amounts of carbon nanotubes and epoxies (glue-like materials) with crushed rock that has the same composition and grain size as lunar dust, they discovered to their surprise that they had created a very strong material with the consistency of concrete.", wouldn't building living (and other) structures on the moon using this material be a better application of this technology?

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      A key problem here is that you need carbon nanotubes and epoxies. Currently, that would have to come from Earth. I don't see it being feasible to bring enough for large structures though using current technology. According to this New Scientist article [newscientist.com], you need 100 parts lunar regolith to 10 parts epoxy to 1 part carbon nanotubes (with a touch of aluminum powder). If I wanted to build a 1 meter high, 1 meter long, 20 centimeter thick wall, I think it'd take 400 kilograms of lunar regolith (assuming a dens
  • Vs. Hubble? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AdamHaun ( 43173 ) on Saturday June 07, 2008 @07:35PM (#23696901) Journal
    What's the advantage of having a telescope on the moon instead of in space?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Velocir ( 851555 )
      Size, availability of materials to construct it out of, and, as TFA pointed out, a stable platform to work from.
  • "Two or more such telescopes spanning the surface of the Moon can work together to take direct images of Earth-like planets around nearby stars and look for brightness variations that come from oceans and continents."

    Two telescopes plus a very long radio-telescope array would look like this:

    http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/54799main_mars_smiley_face.gif [nasa.gov]

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson