Inflatable Moon Houses Get Icy Test
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Big inflatable moon bounces. Stuff at street fares and kids' parties, and now a variation might actually end up on the moon, pumped up with air.
NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce has more.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: NASA wants astronauts back on the moon by 2020. And soon after that, it plans to build a permanent settlement. To get an idea of what that might look like, I recently drove to one moonwalker road, which happens to be in a rural Delaware.
Doug Durney works here at a company called ILC Dover.
Mr. DOUG DURNEY (Director of Marketing, ILC Dover): We're sort of in a middle of a cornfield, but ever since Project Apollo, we've made all the spacesuits for NASA.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says a spacesuit is really a kind of small inflatable habitat that an astronaut can live in. And now the company wants to build a bigger one.
Mr. DURNEY: There it is. That is it.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Out on a lawn is something that looks like a long, slightly saggy, dark blue igloo. This structure isn't going to the moon. But soon, it's going to another cold, rugged place - Antarctica.
Mr. LARRY TOUPS (Space Architect, NASA Johnson Space Center): We expect to learn quite a bit from actually deploying the structure in the Antarctic, basically, getting data back from it. That's part of the NASA participation here.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Larry Toups works at NASA on moon base designs. He says scientists who worked down on the ice aren't quite like astronauts.
Mr. TOUPS: But there is a list of challenges that they face that we will be facing going to the moon.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Here's one major one: It's expensive and difficult to get construction material to a remote environment. Dave Cadogan is director of research at ILC Dover.
Mr. DAVE CADOGAN (Director of Research, ILC Dover): When people climb Everest now, they don't bring, you know, a big - a boxy structure with them. They bring a tent, and it's packaged, and it's lightweight. And that's really - we're just trying to do the exact same thing.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The goal is something that packs like a tent but acts like a building. We put on special white booties to keep things clean and step inside.
Mr. CADOGAN: So you're coming basically through the airlock. Watch your step.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: It looks like a big bluish room with walls that feel like rubber. Unlike a kid's bouncy bounce, it can withstand a hundred-mile-per-hour winds, and it has all kinds of sensors embedded in it so NASA engineers in Houston can monitor its health as it endures the harsh Antarctic winter. I asked Larry Toups if he really thought part of the future moon base would be inflatable.
Mr. TOUPS: I would say there's probably a good chance.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Would you want to live in here?
Mr. TOUPS: Probably so for a period of time.
Unidentified Man: Only if he's on the moon.
Mr. TOUPS: Only if I'm on the moon. Yeah.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: He says he's sure astronauts would put up with a home the size of a closet as long as it's in space, but he'd like to give them as much room as possible.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.