SciShow Space is supported by Brilliant.org. Last week, scientists and engineers announced two new developments in possible lunar habitats. So if you’ve ever hoped to live on a barren, cold wasteland with minimal atmosphere, this Space News is going to be very exciting for you. First, Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance, or ULA, announced that they’ll be sending one of Bigelow’s inflatable habitats, called the B330, to low-lunar orbit as early as 2022.
The habitat would act like a lunar depot, where astronauts could live and train, and where other companies could test their space tech. If this sounds kind of familiar, it’s because Bigelow has been working on inflatable space habitats for over 10 years. We covered their BEAM habitat last year when it was sent to the International Space Station for testing. BEAM is a lot like a pillowy space closet, with 16 cubic meters of volume when it’s fully inflated. Right now, it’s attached to the ISS with all kinds of monitors in it to measure things like micrometeorite impacts and cosmic rays.
And so far, it’s going okay! It’s still intact and safe for humans to live in, and it’s being used as storage. The plan is to keep it attached to the ISS for at least a couple more years to see how it holds up. The B330 habitat is basically a super-BEAM. When expanded, it has a volume of 330 cubic meters, over 20 times more volume than BEAM, and it can house up to six people. But of course we’ll need to get it off Earth first, which is where ULA comes in with their Vulcan rocket. Vulcan is a big rocket redesign for ULA, with new, super powerful boosters and a second stage called the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES. It’s also the only commercial rocket in development big enough to launch the B330. But it’s not done yet. Vulcan won’t be able to launch before 2019 at the earliest, and ACES won’t be ready until 2023. And ACES is essential for getting the B330 to the moon. First, the inflatable habitat will spend up to a year in low-Earth orbit for tests. Then, if everything works out, it will dock with ACES, which will push it on over to the moon! With people in it! But it will still be a while until ACES is ready.
So stay tuned! Now, if you’d rather live in the moon instead of near it, you may be more interested in hunkering down in a lunar lava tube. Lava tubes are … well, tubes made by lava. Scientists aren’t always that creative with names. There are a couple ways they can form, but one way is when underground lava cools and hardens on the outside. Then, the lava inside drains out and leaves behind a tube. We’ve suspected there are lava tubes on the moon for a while, because we know it had lots of volcanic activity early in its history — but now we’re pretty confident they’re actually there! Back in 2009, researchers found an unexplained hole in the Marius Hills, a region of the moon covered in volcanic rock and peaks from hardened lava. And in 2014, more research confirmed that the so-called Marius Hills Hole was an opening into some kind of long cavern — so, possibly a lava tube! But we still didn’t know how far underground or how tall it was.
Then, last week, a team from JAXA, the Japanese space agency, confirmed it: The Marius Hills Hole leads to at least one lava tube! They used data from radio sounding — basically, radar — to find that the tube, or tubes, start about 75 meters underground, and are around 75 meters tall. Now, a big hole on the moon may not sound that exciting, but it would actually make a really great place to live. See, our atmosphere on Earth is awesome. It protects us from high energy radiation, keeps us all warm and cozy at night, and burns up the meteorites that try to kill us. Well, most of them. Sorry, non-avian dinosaurs. The moon, on the other hand, has a really thin atmosphere that’s not very useful. So, even with spacesuits on, astronauts would be exposed to potentially dangerous cosmic rays. And a long-term habitat on the moon’s surface would be vulnerable to meteorites and freezing temperatures. We could overcome all those engineering challenges, but an underground moon base would solve those problems with much less work. Rock, especially dense rock like volcanic basalt, is really good at filtering out cosmic rays.
It also traps heat in and, if it’s thick enough, provides shielding against meteorites. So scientists looking at moon colonization are big fans of lava tubes as potential real estate. And now, thanks to this new research, we know there’s at least one tube big enough for astronauts to live in. We’d just need to figure out what sort of housing to put inside them. But, like some scientists have pointed out, an inflatable habitat in a lava tube might be a great idea. So someday, maybe Bigelow Aerospace will also start an underground moon base. And then we’d all be living in a James Bond movie! Lava tubes are pretty sweet on their own, but the technology scientists use to find them can be used for other tunnels as well. You can learn more about similar tubes here on earth with Brilliant’s Oil Prospecting quiz, which takes you through how gravitational anomalies are used to locate oil deposits in the ground. So since we’re going to take a quiz, let’s go to the SciShow Quiz Show set to check it out.
So I don’t actually know anything about oil prospecting, so I’m going to kinda back up in the lesson so I can learn more before diving into this part of the quiz. So this oil prospecting lesson’s really cool because it’s not anything I ever would have thought about. They’re using calculations that we use to talk about planets to talk about the stuff that’s under the ground in the earth.
So based on what I read before in the lead up to this part of the question I think the answer is, “It’s The Same.” And I got it right! So you’ll always learn a lot with Briliant.org but it is definitely not over your head. There’s always lots of information that you can unpack to help you figure out the quizzes. I think it is really fun to get sucked into the world they create with each lesson and I think you’ll like it too. So if you want to check it out and help SciShow Space you can go to Brilliant.org/scishowspace and the first 200 people that check it out will get 20% off of their annual subscription. So thanks!