There is already a long list of weird stuff that has been sent into space. Some were pranks, others were more serious, but all provided valuable information and lessons.
It is often unusual thoughts, off-the-wall suggestions, eureka moments in the bath and general ‘weirdness’ that lead to major breakthroughs. Therefore, the suggestions below of weird things for inclusion on a moon mission are in keeping with this tradition and may spark your imagination when it comes to ideas for unloading stuff.
Sauna on the Surface
The moon is a lonely, isolated place so the mental toll on astronauts will be immense. Evidence from decades of space travel has shown just how debilitating this stress can be. Perhaps the most important item for unpacking will be something to help with the psychological strain. The Russian space station ‘Mir’ actually had a sauna and cosmonauts took birch branches with them to help unwind in the steam after a tough day of orbital experiments. Prefabricated buildings, much like a sauna kit, will be essential for crewed moon missions and an automated technique is required to both unload and assemble these on the lunar surface. If a logistic system can unload and build a sauna on the moon with a steam generator, insulation, lighting and internal furniture, then it can probably handle most building types and habitat deployment.
A Body Double
Space flight and moon missions are dangerous and there is a very real risk that an astronaut could be seriously injured or even killed on the moon. Therefore, taking a crash-test dummy to practice body handling and retrieval would be a useful exercise. Handling odd-shaped, bendy and fragile items contained in a spacesuit is perhaps the most difficult logistical task and this is one area that really needs some radical thought.
Mud and Slime
Although water will eventually be mined on the moon, for the first few missions transporting water and then unloading and storing it will be an interesting logistical challenge. With the extremes of temperature found between light and dark, the low gravity and the vicious g-force of launching and landing, water is actually quite a difficult commodity to deal with as it could be liquid, ice, steam or a combination of all three. Tanks, refrigeration and insulation are all very heavy and complicate matters further. Obviously, water is not weird in the slightest, but what if it was combined with something else to make a mud or slime that was more stable and easier to handle? Would this allow two or more substances to be transported more conveniently and then separated again once safely on the moon? Or perhaps they can be formed into shapes like pottery and then hardened. By packing a variety of muds and slimes and taking them to the moon it may be possible to identify a new logistical method.
Algae holds huge promise for sustaining astronauts in space and on the moon. Algal spores can be stored almost indefinitely in their dormant state and then reactivated with water and carbon dioxide when required. By utilising light and waste carbon dioxide from astronauts, algae produce oxygen and a range of oils, sugars and starches that can be used for a variety of purposes. By taking different algal spores to the moon, it should be possible to work out which species will fare best. The logistics of this will be crucial as the spores must be protected from the harshness of space and the lunar environment until they are needed for reactivation. Similar techniques will be required for seeds and plant spores.
Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti
Numerous food items have already been taken into space from corned beef sandwiches that nearly ended in disaster, to wheels of cheese to fried chicken. However, most space food is currently freeze-dried and consumed relatively quickly without being exposed to the rigours of space outside the capsule. Future lunar missions will require large amounts of food to be pre-positioned or cached where it will be much more exposed to hostile space for long periods of time. It would be useful to take a ‘picnic hamper’ to the moon with various different foods and drinks in a variety of packages to see which fare best for long term storage on the lunar surface. Perhaps some fine wines or whisky should be included to see how well they age and mature on another world. Whatever is on the menu, successful unloading and handling of food whilst avoiding a corned beef disaster will be critical.
Attention Citizen Science Space Innovators
Artemis will be a huge national space challenge and NASA has already started research utilising the power of the crowd and citizen science space innovation. You have probably already seen their ‘how do astronauts poop in space’ challenge or the ‘watts on the moon’ competition. There will be many more challenges before Artemis launches and your solution could be the critical breakthrough that leads to success either in one of the preparatory unmanned research missions or the crewed launch itself. Without effective logistics and unloading techniques the moon mission will fail. New ideas and innovative thinking are required now, and your contribution could be the solution that ensures success.
Pack Your Stuff - We are Going Back to the Moon!
The biggest single cause of failed planetary and moon landing missions has been due to ‘faulty unpacking’ or ‘incorrect deployment’ on arrival at the destination. The Mars Polar Lander, Deep Space 2, and Chandrayaan-2 are some recent examples. Effective unpacking of supplies and equipment on the moon is actually a very pressing matter as NASA have announced they will be sending the first woman and the next man to the moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis program.
Given the current failure rate for unpacking on space missions, new and innovative techniques are required now to ensure the successful delivery of the supplies and equipment required for the Artemis and future moon missions. NASA wants to hear ideas from anyone who has struggled with unloading or unpacking and found a solution. No engineering degree required!