The Moon is terrifying, and that's why I love it


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hey look, there are frozen McRibs on the moon!

As far as I know, only two SF stories dealt with the problems of moondust.

I had to read the Wikipedia entry to remember why it was problematical in A Fall of Moondust. Short: The dust formed great “seas” which had to be traversed by boat-like vehicles.

A Hal Clement story described moon dust in a crater which became statically charged. Two astronauts who ventured inside were covered with the stuff. Rubbing it off made it worse; their plastic visors created more of a charge. They eventually figured out that they could rub their suits together, creating enough of an opposite charge that one astronaut could rub the dust off of the other’s visor.

Nothing, as far as I know, described scratchy death dust. This stuff would likely make Helium “mining” and other industrial processes way difficult.

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If you haven’t seen it, go see the documentary Lunarcy! (yes, there’s an exclamation point in the title). Not technically savvy, but very interesting to see people who are fairly obsessed, excited, and pumped about the moon.

So actually they use to be worried that the dust was like an ocean before we landed anything. Given the story is from 1961, that might be what educated folks believed at the time.

Your bum-rubbing astronauts are point-blank hilarious to me, but there are projects which use high-voltage low-amperage parallel wires under AC current to shove dust away. Check out one of the original papers. We had some kids on our team that made a transparent version to use on a camera lens.

I super hope Yutu has something similar to the clear ones on their solar panels. Otherwise that might be some funny sad stuff.

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Great article, as the regolith issue is one that is too easily overlooked. One thing, though. The various Yutu rover models that the CNSA has displayed are different in many details from the one that actually landed. One, in particular, are the wheels. Instead of using that spiral spoked design, the Chinese seem to have settled on a simpler fixed spoke design. The treads themselves are mesh. The suspension system is otherwise very similar to the ones found on the American Martian rover designs.
The only reason I noticed this difference is because I am trying to build a small, simple, model of Yutu for comparison to my old Hot Wheels Pathfinder Sojourner model (by the way, it is huge in comparison, just based upon the little data the CNSA has shared). I gathered what must have been dozens of images, for what was supposed to be a fun little project. In this GIF, you can see the wheel design on the actual lander a bit better.
Yutu Rover being deployed


Amazing catch! Thank you so much!

It looks like a baby Lunokhod!

Damn is that very ballsy with a tread made up of so many pieces!

I greatly enjoyed this article and, as a geologist, I enjoyed thinking about the various factors that cause lunar regolith to behave the way it does compared to earth and mars sediments. Lunar regolith is something I’ve read about, but never seriously studied and I hadn’t thought about it this way.

I also am a big fan of this approach to science and engineering - pushing the limits just because we can, leading to all sorts of discoveries and advances nobody would have expected initially. I think it’s a useful philosophy in general, applied to many different circumstances.

Also, I smiled when I saw that you’re involved with Hacker Dojo, @KatyLevinson. I happened to be passing through the bay area with my dad a couple years ago right when the Maker Faire was happening, and he being an old-school machinist and toolmaker and tinkerer but not up on all the modern stuff I knew he’d like it. It also happens that our last name is actually Hacker, and my dad loves finding stuff that says Hacker on it no matter what the context. We both grabbed a Hacker Dojo sticker from your booth and he particularly enjoyed that.

What did Earth’s Moon say too the Sun? I can see Uranus.

And it never rotated again…orbit maybe…

Thank you,… carry on.



Hey! the rollover doesn’t work!
But I guess, on the moon, over rolls you.

Another thought, and this just came about as I was working on more details for my model.
What appear to be two sets of cameras sit on the mast and are just about the same distance as human eyes (in pairs). To some, this might not seem such a big deal. However, in this case, it is. The only dimensions that seem to be bandied about for the Yutu rover is its height, 1.5 meters, or just about 59 inches. This puts those cameras at very close to the same height as human eyes. Combine this with the short distance to the Moon (light round trip time average around 2.6 seconds), and you have a compelling example of telepresence.

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Katy, thanks for the longer explanation. I will admit I was very skeptical of your twitter comments on this topic and it is a little hard to make the points you make above in 140 character snippets.

Possibly we all have different definitions of difficulty, you focus on the roving in sharp dust and extreme temperatures and others focused on travelling to get there in the first place.

That being said, sharp lunar regolith doesn’t bode well for a moonbase or colony filled with astronauts coughing their lungs out with silicosis (regolithosis?). is there a nicer place that Earth in the Solar System? I doubt it

This was something we were seriously considering on our (now cancelled) mission, and the general scientific consensus after lengthy research was “OH HELL NO.”

Remember that we do not consistently have the luxury of beaming to the moon from the most convenient place on earth. For (USA) lunar missions, we beam from 3 earth stations (Canberra, someplace in the US, and I forget). Canberra was the far one, so you’re limited first by the top possible totally secured speed to Canberra + whatever time to the moon and back + speed back from Canberra + network latency + satellites are hard. Our math booked the entire deal at around 4.5 seconds round-trip.

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