Part-Time Scientists planning to generate lunar atmosphere for subsequent moon landing
<UPDATE>Please also read the following corresponding blog update.</UPDATE>
Berlin 1st April 2012 - Because none of the Part-Time Scientists were able to achieve a successful landing in the state-of-the-art lunar landing simulator, the team has decided to generate an atmosphere on the moon using nuclear power. This would achieve several benefits for their lunar mission to be carried out before the end of 2015.
Team leader Robert Böhme delights "An atmosphere on the moon would allow us to land with parachutes instead of rocket thrusters, and because this is a much slower and gradual process, it is much easier to steer and control. We will achieve a much higher accuracy in landing and reduce the risk of a failed mission through an impact event." An atmosphere also simplifies operation and construction of robots on the moon, because the extreme environmental temperature changes are sharply reduced, which lowers requirements for the mechanics and electronics of the lunar rover Asimov and subsequent robots. This enables to use all COTS components, which significantly reduces cost.
The atmosphere will be generated through heating of the lunar surface (regolith). At very high temperatures, the lunar rock releases the hydrogen and oxygen bound in silicates, which can then combine to form water as steam, which will be the foundation for the atmosphere. Using this process will require several months to build enough atmosphere for a soft landing. Nuclear power is required to achieve the temperatures necessary and sustain them over several months. The Part-Time Scientists will acquire this material from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods from European nuclear power plants. Other countries have also inquired about possible collaboration.
A lunar atmosphere also allows for testing of new transport ideas on the moon. For example, hovercrafts have to date only been used on Earth, but an atmosphere would enable their use on the moon. The benefits are striking: a overcraft can just glide over small craters or stones, and loose regolith, in which a rover could simply get stuck, would not present an obstacle, either.
In principle an atmosphere can make the moon habitable for mankind, but the radiation caused by the nuclear powered atmosphere generation means that the moon will only be habitable for robots for some several thousand years. This is why the Part-Time Scientists are looking for partners in fully automated exploitation of the moon's natural resources through robotic mining, extraction and processing.
A vision of this new atmosphere on the moon is depicted in this video: