by Lauren Roux
Not only do I write science fiction in my spare time, but I also get to work in a field that helps to make those futures possible. I’m part of a small team at Off Planet Research that creates lunar simulants for testing and research purposes that range from testing landers and rovers to creating simulated building materials that might one day be used on the Moon.
We at Off Planet Research want to ensure the success of upcoming missions to the Moon by helping to develop and test landers and rovers in the best simulated lunar soil (called regolith) possible. That drive has resulted in us becoming one of the few companies that can provide the simulated lunar regoliths needed to ensure our technology functions properly on extra-terrestrial bodies.
There are significant difficulties that need to be overcome before we can benefit from the promise of lunar or even Martian resources, and having simulated lunar regolith available, here on Earth, means that we can work through most of the issues associated with the Moon’s hostile environment before we place people and machinery on its surface.
The Moon’s regolith is made up of sharp, angular particles, the majority of which are finer than talcum powder. These particles stick and bind to everything. If you’ve read through some of the Apollo missions, you’ll find that they couldn’t keep the lunar dust off their equipment or out of the lunar modules. It coated the oxygen filters, crept past the dust barriers, and created anxiety over the safety of the lunar space the astronauts lived in as well as allergic reactions with at least one member of the Apollo teams.
The Moon’s regolith is very destructive, and like the Moon’s regolith, our simulant routinely destroys our machinery. It’s one of the ways we know we’re making good regolith and enables us to research potential problems here on Earth that future missions will have on the Moon. Simulants are important because the lunar regolith brought back from the Apollo missions cannot be used to run all the tests needed on equipment and processes due to both the small quantity and the high value of these lunar samples. We need companies like our own to create enough simulant to ensure the success of future space ventures.
We wanted to reach out to the Science Fiction Writers of the world and offer up our expertise to answer any questions you might have about the regolith on the Moon, some of the ices that might be there, and what it’s like to actually handle the lunar soil that is not only dry, but statically charged. We’d love to answer any questions you might have at email@example.com. You can check out our website at www.offplanetresearch.com, or keep up-to-date on our activities through our Facebook page @OffPlanetResearch.
Lauren Roux is a Researcher at Off Planet Research, a graduate of the University of Washington, and writes under E.L. Roux
We at Off Planet Research, in order to improve our fulfillment speeds, have launched an IndieGoGo campaign titled: Creating Lunar Soil: Learning to Live on the Moon. The perks in our campaign enable our supporters to own a bit of simulated lunar regolith. The featured perk is a vial of our Highland or Mare lunar simulant that you can hold in your hand, or even string on a necklace. You can check out our IndieGoGo campaign at igg.me/at/Off-Planet-Research, and maybe get a bit of simulated lunar regolith of your own.