Wednesday, November 6, 2013

On the Moon, as on Earth, location is everything

Situs - Five of many LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC), high resolution views of the increasingly famous "mare pit crater" in the Sea of Tranquility (8.34°N, 33.22°W),  a skylight entrance to a cavern of unknown dimensions. Each of these selected views presents the intriguing skylight, as wide across as the length of a football field, under different lighting. Three views are from 50 km overhead, at mid-morning, nearly noon and just prior to local sunset. Two remaining views study the pit at an oblique angle from the west, showing a detailed history of layering  in the deep walls, and offering a tantalizing hint at how far the cavern might stretch outside our view from orbit [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

John Moore's remarkable vision, using data from LRO and sensible imagination, has uploaded the above HD* video to YouTube. "Pit Possibilities" is neither impractical nor is it far from the vision set forth by Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and Douglas Trumbull more than four decades ago.

*The settings for the YouTube video above can be set as high as 1080p.

About 375 km northeast of the Apollo 11 landing site the Narrow Angle Cameras of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) resolved a 100 meter wide opening in the Sea of Tranquility. The spacecraft has been taking pictures of the feature at nearly every opportunity almost since the vehicle arrived in lunar orbit in 2009, having released at least six one to one-half-meter resolution NAC observations of the skylight to the Planetary Data System. The walls of the pit column, like tree rings, reveal not just a few but many epochs of flooding. It can also be determined that at least part of the depths below are under an intact ceiling, and some of the floor below is never exposed to direct sunlight.

An educated estimate of 30 meters of lunar regolith, the most readily available building material that does not require processing or refinement, would provide the kind of protection against very high energy cosmic radiation humans enjoy at sea level here on Earth. For many years scientists have speculated on the logistic and engineering challenges of shoring-up and then deeply covering over an existing gash in the lunar surface, like Hadley Rille, explored by the Apollo 15 expedition in 1971, thinking of it as an obvious course for setting up "underground" on the Moon. But since the discovery of a pit crater in the Marius Hills by Japan and subsequent discoveries of deeper and more stable "openings" by LRO investigators, the thinking on this problem has shifted.

Put foolishly, perhaps, what if, instead of front-end loaders and other heavy equipment, all that was required to secure a safe foothold on the Moon was a rope ladder? Russia's government and its academia is already looking at the Tranquility pit as a possible, even desirable, foothold.

With that in mind, on October 1, John Moore published a remarkable video on YouTube, embedded above (and available at 1080p HD settings) explores one possible future "highest best use" of what may soon become some of the Moon's most valuable Real Estate.

Clavius Moon Base
Still frames from the second "Blue Danube" sequence, where a Pan American commercial lunar lander is seen as it gently sets down at an underground moon base, from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey," a MGM film based on Arthur C. Clarke's 1951 short story "The Sentinel." The filmmaker's vision of human progress, based on the rapid pace of transportation technology in the 20th century, turned out to be overly optimistic. Nevertheless, discovery of water, mare pit craters and caves on the Moon in the early 21st century has again made the decades-old special effects a model of "the possible" [MGM, Inc.].

Related Posts:
Eimmart A: a Crater of Contrasts (May 26, 2013)
Pit Crater in Fecunditatis (May 23, 2013)
John Moore's "Watered Moon" (April 10, 2013)
Future Moon: "Working the Crater" (February 6, 2013)
John Moore: Exaggerating the elevation (October 17, 2012)
New view of Sinas pit crater (November 11, 2011) 
New views of lunar pits (September 14, 2010)

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