Newsletter of LUNAX® - the Lunar National Agricultural Experiment Corporation (non-profit) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: David A. Dunlop. HARVEST MOON Editor: Peter Kokh, 1630 N. 32nd Str., Milwaukee WI 53208. Phone (414) 342-0705.
FEATURE ESSAY By Peter Kokh
ydroponics versus eoponics on the Moon
When one thinks of experimental agriculture for Space, it is hydroponics that comes to mind. It's not just that both Space and hydroponics are nouveau high tech, on the frontier, at the cutting edge. There is another reason for the feeling that here we have a "match made in heaven."
Traditional soil-based farming is acreage-intensive for the most part, even considering efficient truck-farming and more recent intensive horticulture experiments. Hydroponics, on the other hand, uses technology to enable compactness of operation. Growth beds can be layered rack-upon-rack for one, with technology stepping in to see that every plant is properly lighted, nourished, and drained, with no or little waste. Every last drop of nutrient solution not used by plants can be recycled and reused again. AND crop cycles can be telescoped.
Further, unlike with the soil plot, fertility of the maintained nutrient medium does not go down with each crop. Nor is there medium loss to wind or water erosion; nor any medium poisoning from leached salts through irrigation.
The appropriateness of such operations for Space is not lost on anyone. Paradoxically in boundless empty Space, pressurized Volume Costs Dearly! Launchers can lift only so much mass, and weight aside, only so much hard-contained volume. Recent paper studies with space-inflatable structures promise more elbow-room. But food-growing is just one of the activities in line for the extra room.
NASA's experiments with "salad garden booths" for the Space Station (someday for space craft on long journeys, e.g. several months to Mars) are exactly what's called for. Such operations are right-scaled for an initial outpost on the Moon or Mars as well. And we can safely say that there will always be a need in Space for such "nook and cranny agriculture".
There remains quite a bit of research that needs to be done in hydroponics. For one, hydroponics does not lend itself equally well to all kinds of food plants. Experimentation in adapting the operation to tubers is incomplete. If we are going to be limited in crop selection, then we are going to be limited in menu and cuisine possibilities. It is interesting to note that one of things that came out of Biosphere II was a hydroponics cookbook. No one is so naive as to assume that a proper nutritional balance is of itself sufficient to maintain morale!
Yet the tale does not end here. Since the earliest stages of the continuing analysis and study of the Apollo Moon Rocks (and dust!), it has been clear that the Moon is blessed with the chemical stuffs with which to make a whole suite of building materials: metal alloys, ceramics, glass and glass composites, and cement. So for some time now, there has been considerable brainstorming about just how to produce such materials under lunar conditions and how to use them to build up a lunar-appropriate architectural "language". Confidence is now high that, in time, we can burst out of the egg of our prefab outpost and expand, generously, with lunar materials.
In that future context, new options open for lunar agriculture and the appropriateness of soil-based agriculture needs reexamination. We've knew right off the bat (while the Apollo 11 astronauts were still in their Quarantine Chamber) that the soil is not poisonous, and does support growth.
Moreover the soil does contain nutrients. While any kind of agriculture that derives the oxygen to be incorporated into living tissues and into the associated water will save 50% in the first instance, 89% in the second, of the fuel cost of importing the equivalent amount of terrestrially-grown food, we will be under pressure to save even more. To ignore other nutrients available in regolith soil is just bad business.
To be sure, lunar regolith soils (several types: mare, highlands, KREEP, mantle upthrust, asteroidal impactor) have problems. There is a considerable fraction that is so finely powdered as to impede proper drainage, especially in one-sixth gravity. It is virginal: not just innocent of organics, but never having known water nor air. It is immature, i.e. unweathered. While rich in many of the nutrients necessary, these are not always present in a form readily available.
These drawbacks can be overcome. For one, we can't just throw up a tent over the surface, fill it with air and farm. The air pressure would blow our shelter into space. We have to build sealed structures, then bring the soil inside. As we do so, we can easily sift out the powder, collect some of the glassy fraction to transform under heat and pressure into zeolites to add back in, and scavenge some of the trapped particle-adsorped gasses like nitrogen and carbon to add to the atmospheric mix.
The various "reject" fractions of the handled regolith not desired in the soil beds, will already have been isolated and concentrated in the sifting and other operations. They may serve as value-added feedstocks for other industrial operations.
Finally, and the fiscal importance of this "accounting" practice cannot be underestimated, regolith-based agriculture provides an easier way to recycle human and crop biowastes. Without this, our biosphere cycle will remain wide open. Nor should the frosting factor of intensely illuminated farm-area park-like retreats and their therapeutic value be ignored.
Real research with regolith-based agriculture has not yet begun, simply because NASA, afraid we might never go back to get another load, is so conservative and stingy in handing out samples, that its fear risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may need to await a second soil return from a more pragmatically-driven "Commercial" mission. In point of fact, available Minnesota Lunar Simulant is just not close enough to the real thing to inspire real confidence.
The era of settlement expansion through cheap Made on Luna building materials - a revolution of elbow-room on a par with that from yore's U-boats to today's giant nuclear subs. The space constraints that made compact hydroponic methods the only way to go will disappear in such locations, and more traditional soil-based farming, à la Luna, emerges as an option.
Soil should not be allowed to become a dirty word, and the contempt in which soil farming is obviously held by many hydroponicists is petty. One needn't "bash" someone else's work in order to establish the value of one's own.
OUR PREDICTION: in time, the distinction between the two will blur as techniques are shared and analoged. -- PK
MOONLIGHT BAY: Beachhead Design
A hybrid rigid-inflatable Lunar Beachhead Design that promises generous "acreage" for farming
© Copernicus Construction Company, Milwaukee*
In a seminal paper presented in San Antonio at the 1991 International Space Development Conference, we tried to define a lower threshold for a return to the Moon, developing the concept of the "Hostel", an inexpensively equipped habitat with lots of elbow-room that needed only to be hooked up to the cranny-jammed expensive equipment of a docked visiting vehicle in order to function as a complete base.
According to this mission design, the crew compartment of the Lunar Landing Craft bringing the base crew, would be underslung beneath all the fuel tanks and cargo and between the engines. It would have retractable wheels and independent motive power. Upon landing, it would be winched down to the surface and taxi under its own power to the waiting hostel, and dock with it. The crew would go back and forth in "shirt sleeves" through the docking port into the hostel. This amphibious (space/surface) vehicle, dubbed the "frog", would supply power, communications, air/water recycling, compact work stations, galley, first aid station, EVA airlock etc. - things it would have to have anyway. The hostel would be the less expensive for not having to duplicate these very items. Its function would be to furnish more ample sleeping, dining, and recreation space, as well as ample room to sort and handle samples from surface field trips. A perfect symbiosis.
Of course, such a hostel could only function with the attached frog, i.e. with a visiting crew. Yet it would be a less expensive way to start, a lower threshold to cross for the early phase of intermittent human presence on the Moon. In time, the hostel could be upgraded to serve as an independent full-function base for permanent uninterrupted occupation.
In addition to lowering the threshold for a lunar beachhead, our paper had a second goal: to escape the sardine-can trap. Assuming that anything brought to the Moon must fit within the Shuttle Payload Bay, we looked at modules that telescoped, that had hard equipment-packed end caps and accordion like expandable midsections, and other interesting options. As an aside, NASA has grudgingly adopted a helpful outside suggestion to include a 5-floor inflatable kevlar sphere as the core of its most recent Moonbase design.
Most inflatables proposed come in two forms: sphere and cylinder. Both have the problem of an unstable footprint - until anchored, they might roll. And the sphere has the added drawback of being tall for its volume. On the Moon where everything needs to be covered with 2-4 meters of soil for protection from cosmic rays, solar flares, and occasional micro-meteorites, "tall" is not good. Another drawback of previous inflatable proposals is that they had to be outfitted through an airlock after inflation. We saw a way around all these problems.
First we introduced the idea of a "hybrid" structure that would include a fully configured and equipped hard module with inflatable exterior walls to supply much more generous walkabout and function room than could be supplied in any use-as-shipped prefab module. One design, the "trilobite" would deploy the core "works module" horizontally and then inflate two larger kevlar cylinders along either side. But our favorite concoction is a vertical works core cylinder with an attached inflatable torus. Prior to deployment, the kevlar bag would store in a single wrap-around locker under the hull skin which would be shed upon arrival. The torus, unlike sphere or cylinder, has an intrinsically stable footprint. Lay a donut or a bagel on the table and it isn't going to roll anywhere!
This concept is by no means limited to "hostel" use. The core could conceivably contain all the "works" needed for a full-function base especially if we leapfrog the constraints of the Shuttle Payload Bay's 15 ft. diameter and are able to ship core modules sharing the larger 27.5 ft. diameter of the Shuttle External Tank. If so, so much the better.
Shielded moonbagel is deployed in suitably sized crater to ease placement of shielding overburden. "Works" core module in center contains the electronics, power, plumbing, heating-cooling, air/water recycling, communications, galley. The torus, hollow ribs filled with rigidizing foam, is for sleeping, recreation, dining, exercise and other elbow-room needing functions. Flooring pulls out of second layer of concentric lockers. A third innermost locker layer holds assorted pull/snap/fold/pop-out furnishings and built in furniture etc. Suited EVA is from the tower base. Vehicles dock at left.
Now if connecting ports, like the vehicle dock shown, were placed at 60 degree intervals around the periphery, any number of such moonbagels, each delivered to the Moon complete in a single payload, could be clustered to form a major complex.
If each moonbagel had 3 floors and was 100 ft in diameter, each would have 21,700 square feet = half an acre! The six farm units above would offer 3 ACRES for hydroponic or soil beds.
* CCC is an unincorporated space-interested think tank hobby group, an off shoot of the Lunar Reclamation Society. LRS serves as the Milwaukee chapter of the National Space Society.
Information about CCC and its activities: (414) 342-070. PK
MOONTALK: Glossary Entries
The 28.53 day long Sunrise to Sunrise Cycle on the Moon will affect everything from Agriculture to Production Schedules to the Culture of the Lunan Pioneers
By Peter Kokh
We call the 28.53 cycle from one Full Moon to the next a [lunar] "month", and that makes sense - from our perspective. But what about for someone living on the Moon?
Might they instead not measure the same time period from Full Earth to Full Earth? But recall that the Moon always keeps the same face turned toward the Earth, so that calling this period an "earth" wouldn't make much sense for someone settling or working on the "Farside" where Earth is never visible above the horizon. There is a word astronomers use, the "lunation", but again, that is a geocentric term. So actually, there is no existing term that would suit future Lunan pioneer needs; one needs to be invented. And the choice is logical. From their future viewpoint, we are talking about the Sunrise to Sunrise period, or the Sunset to Sunset period. So why not call it simply the "sunth" to rhyme with "month"?
Whether future Lunan settlers, as an expression of cultural autonomy, would ever want to invent their own sunth-based Calendar is something we can only speculate about. The challenge here is that 12 "sunths" is only 354 days, eleven and a quarter shy of one standard year. The "lunar" calendar of Islam has 12 "sunths" invariably, and its year count "laps" Earth standard year reckoning by 1 every 32-3 years. In the Judaic system, a thirteenth "intercalary" month is added every 2-3 years to 'jerk' the running year count back in line.
Now as it happens, there are almost exactly 235 lunar months every 19 years or 228 calendar months. Based on this "Metonic period", Lunans could "drift" with eighteen 12-sunth years, followed by a 19-sunth 19th year, the additional 7-sunth add-on to serve as a once-per-generation "Renaissance" period of cultural, social, and institutional review and renewal!
In any such calendar, 28 and 29 day sunths would alternate. As to weeks, all previous attempts to move off the 7-day count have failed. It is a touchy subject. Earth's days are a purely local time cycle, and what day we call what is totally arbitrary. Yet reason uninvoked, many peoples and cultures treat this cadence as a cosmic, universe-wide given worth living and dying for. If the future settlers did opt to keep the first of the month lined up with the first day of the week, they could add an eighth day once every other sunth. If inserted in mid-weekend, with all holidays so set, it might work well for both workers and businesses. To avoid confusion with the sequence of days on Earth, Lunans could pick an all new set of seven (plus one) names. The names of the stars of the Pleiades Cluster (Pleione for the 8th), or of the stars of the Big Dipper (Alcor for the 8th) are just two of their limitless clean-slate options.
But what about the terms "day" and "night" themselves? Within the pressurized light-controlled living areas, settlers will want to maintain the 24 hr. standard sequence, and to use the terms day and night accordingly. To avoid confusion, they will either need to qualify those given terms or find other ones when referring to the sunshine-darkness periods on the surface, fourteen plus times as long, or sluggish. After playing with a lot of possible expressions and new coinages, we published a suggestion several years ago to use the terms "dayspan" and "nightspan" for these longer periods.
We have already pointed out in HM #1 how this slow day-night cycle would affect lunar agriculture. After feasting on ducted sunshine or equivalent light produced by electricity generated in solar power stations for the 14 day plus dayspan, the plants may have to be put on a 14 day plus nightspan light diet. For it will be much more expensive to produce electric lighting after sundown, either relying on fuel cells which store surplus solar power generated during dayspan - or upon "those nukes". This quandary gave rise to LUNAX' first experiment (for which we still need lots and lots of data from lots and lots of experiments, for each of the plant varieties we might want to grow: the "Nightspan Dark Hardiness Experiment".
But energy-intensive materials processing and manufacturing operations will also have to be cut back drastically during nightspan for the same reasons. Settlers may want to rethink operations processes and sequences on an industry by industry basis, and schedule as many as possible of the energy-intensive, manpower-light operations for dayspan, and of the energy-light, manpower-intensive operations (set-up changeouts and maintenance, inventory, packaging and shipping, etc.) for nightspan. That's an ideal goal, and approaching it will prove easier in some industries than others. Some industries may need to simply shutdown, or cut back on personnel during nightspan, with workers shifted to labor-intensive tasks in other fields. Either way, the biweekly change of pace should be a welcome and cherished perk for many lunar workers.
Within the soil-shielded habitat areas, you will be able to tell when the sun is up "out-vac". Sunlight will flood in through mirrored ducts or fiber optic pathways to provide both general and spot lighting, at reading level illumination or at brilliant full sunshine levels. Most such sun-ports will be shutterable "at night" to maintain an artificial 24-hr lighting pattern. During dayspan, interiors will be flooded with sunlight and the various surfaces will take on their full glory.
During nightspan, efficient high energy lamps could use these same access channels. Or a separate set of electric lights and lamps could be used. Given the availability of the noble gases deposited in the lunar 'topsoil' by the solar wind), "neon" lighting may be a practical option. Whatever the means of illumination, living and working areas will take on a quite different look and feel during nightspan, another kind of charm.
So even if Lunans align their living and working "days" and "nights" with those of Earth, the slow crawl of the Sun over the surface, the long wait between Sunset and the next Sunrise, will still be very much felt in the subsurface settlement areas, transfiguring everything from work to play. This sequence of dayspan + nightspan = sunth will imbue settler culture with its own marks and distinctiveness. On a world where much has to be given up and foregone, the Moon's Sun-driven rhythms could be a blessing in disguise. -- PK
MOONBEAMS: Trivia Lunar IQ Items
What is the "ark Side" of the Moon?
by Peter Kokh
Old myths and commonplaces die hard. One still hears the phrase "the dark side of the Moon". While our companion world does have a "hidden side" forever averted from the Earth, locked in that position by tidal forces, that hemisphere enjoys the same slow Sunrise-Sunset rhythm as the familiar near side.
PHASES OF THE MOON: (1) "New Moon" - the Moon is between Earth and the Sun and the Nearside is in darkness while all of Farside is sunlit, full. (2) First Quarter or First Half Moon - the East half of Nearside and West half of Farside is sunlit. (3) "Full Moon" - all of Nearside is sunlit, all of Farside is in darkness. (4) Third Quarter or Second Half Moon - the West half of Nearside and the East half of Farside is sunlit.
Yet there are differences. At (1) the "darkness" of Nearside is considerably less than total. For it is bathed in the brilliant blue-white glow of the "Full Earth" shining with 60 times the brilliance we enjoy from the smaller, dimmer, "Full Moon". But at (3) the "darkness" of Farside is intense beyond all human experience. Earth is never above the horizon. And there are no clouds or atmosphere to scatter glows, nor any artificial light to gray the sky's ink. There are only the stars, incredible numbers of them, and the full glory of the Milky Way such as anyone has yet to witness.
In that sense, the Farside is the Darkside, for when it is dark it is "Dark" with a capital D. Farside is the Darkside in another sense as well. It is radio-dark. Yes surely there are the ever present radio whispers of the distant stars and interstellar clouds, of exploding novas, even of the turbulent atmospheres of the gas giant planets like Jupiter. But the blare, the constant "ringing in the ears" of radio noise from Earth's radio and television transmitters, even from our microwave ovens, is gone, quenched, blocked by the 2,000 mile thick rock bulk of the Moon's body. While such a radio darkness is imperceptible to humans, it means real static-free operation for prospective radio telescopes, teleoperated by relay at first, that may some-day be placed on Farside to further mankind's insatiable quest into the still mysterious Universe at large all about us.
Hubbell, and the orbiting infrared and gamma ray and other great telescopes put in orbit by NASA, will reveal much. But while being above the atmosphere uncloaks many of the electromagnetic frequencies to which we cannot otherwise tune in, for radio astronomers this high ground is not high enough! We have to get not just above the atmosphere, but above (behind) the shielding bulk of the Moon.
If there are other intelligent species somewhere out there, and if they choose to go through the expense of sending out "hi there, brothers over here" signals, these might well be in wavelengths that do not penetrate atmospheres. That, for one, would prevent them from being picked up by adolescent "puppy" civilizations like ours. Someday, on Farside . -- PK
GREEN CHEESE - 2¢ from the Editor
With the Space Program going nowhere fast, what's the for LUNAX?
If you read the MOONQUAKES report immediately preceding, you may begin to suspect that the Sun doesn't rise and set with NASA after all, that doom at NASA shouldn't infuse us with gloom. Scientists who have been aware for going on two decades that there are resources on the Moon that could help solve some of Earth's most pressing energy and environmental problems, have had a hard time getting anyone inside the Beltway to notice. Meanwhile, work goes on in preparation for the day when elected officials wake up to possi-bilities that lay beyond the horizon of the next reelection date.
NASA is about more than hardware, of course. At least a tad more. The Agency has dipped and dabbed in "space agriculture" and "closed loop environmental support systems" since the early Apollo years - all aimed at alleviating the stocking and resupply needs of long duration missions: aboard the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't Space Station, for a proposed 'permanent' lunar outpost, and for long flights to/from Mars.
But while the agency is itself long aware of the afore-mentioned resources to be found on the Moon and elsewhere in space, and of their potential significance, since it has not been able to get the message across to those in DC with shorter timesights, it hasn't looked at scenarios for large scale resource recovery operations or the hardware/software support needed.
We are wrong to fault NASA with lack of vision. The Agency's lack of direction quite frankly reflects the myopic political agendas of its bosses on Capitol Hill. Sooner or later, however, the press of events - new energy and linked environmental crises, for example - are bound to dramatically reverse the present blind groping. There will be crash programs to develop the hardware for a return to the Moon, for a permanent outpost capable of supporting resource recovery demonstration efforts, and for the biospheric closed loop life support required. The trouble is, the latter requirement is a far more complex affair. The "gray" hardware and associated software is likely to be ready long before the "green". We need much more lead time for the latter. If both are to be ready to hit the ground running at the same time, it will be necessary to accelerate lunar agriculture and lunar biosphere research and development - starting now, when we have the time in the wee hours of our "night" while everyone else still sleeps! And it goes without saying that the "we" must be principally interested parties working diligently and quietly on the sidelines, in the shadows - for the most part outside NASA.
Hydroponics research needs to be pushed to the limit to be able to supply a complete and nutritious diet that also allows taste and menu and cuisine diverse enough to play its key role in keeping morale high. Lighting experiments must be accelerated so we can get the most plant harvest for the least produced energy input during lunar nightspan and dayspan alike. How to return human and plant biowastes into the cycle in the fastest, most efficient way: nurturing lunar-derived soils - this and more needs much work that mustn't wait, lest the hardware be ready, and we not, on a morrow morn sooner than we think. LUNAX has its work cut out for it. You can play a part! -- PK
BOOK REVIEW by Peter Kokh
The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy - In 8 Easy Steps.
By Marshall T. Savage, 1992
[Empyrean Publishing, 1616 Glenarm, Suite 101-B, Denver CO 80202; ISBN 0-9633914-9-6 paperback $18.95, 514 pages Phone Orders 1-800-547-1277, 7-10 days]
Reviewed by Peter Kokh
This, if anything, is a book of sweeping vision, intended as a comprehensive blueprint of how humanity can spend the next millennium productively, first healing the Earth, then moving out into the Solar System and beyond. The first of the eight "easy" steps, is to set up an organization to realize the rest. That organization is now known as First Foundation. It is steps (2) "Aquarius" - growing floating cities at sea to feed the world and learn the lessons of space colonization"; and step (5) "Avallon" &emdash; creating miniature ecologies on the Moon in domed craters, that should hold special interest for readers of Harvest Moon.
Savage envisions great cities "grown" of sea-cement, dissolved carbonates accreted to electrically charged shapes of magnesium mesh also derived from the sea, atop clusters of Ocean Thermal Energy Convertors (OTECs) which use the thermal difference between cold waters pumped up from the deeps and warm surface waters to generate electricity. His cities would sell electricity, hydrogen, magnesium and other sea- derived metals, sea-cement, and mariculture products: algae and algin, fish and shellfish, "sea-silk made from algin", "paperlike products made from chitin exoskeletons of shellfish, pearls, and more. What strikes me here is Savage's realization that such a colonization venture will work only if the "colonists" learn to "live off the land" of the sea, making use of what they have to substitute for what they have not - then trading. Future pioneers of the Moon and Mars will have to do the same.
Of special note is his belief (p. 56) that Aquarians will develop "the type of diet and cuisine that will be supportable in space": seafood, vegetables, fruit, and synthetic foods based on algae. While I'm not so sure that his "Space Colonies at Sea" will actually precede those in space, his point about the probable similarities in diet and cuisine is very interesting.
In the section on lunar settlements, he rightly points out the Moon's deficiency in volatile that form the basis of all living tissue &emdash; and all food: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen. While we will derive some of these by gas scavenging as we move or use lunar regolith in mining or construction activities &emdash; that will not be enough. From the space advocate's point of view it is a happy shortage. It will force opening the rest of the solar system where such organic stuffs can be had more cheaply than by "upporting" them out of Earth's gravity well. Near Earth asteroids of the carbonaceous chondrite type and dormant "comatose" comets are likely near term sources. We still need the Moon, of course, for the abundant oxygen, and the metals, ceramics, glass, and glass composite building materials we can fashion out of the regolith soil. Not to forget Helium-3, the ultimate fusion fuel, if progress in fusion power research finally pays off in a viable, engineerable power plant.
Savage goes on to describe biosphere type colonies under domed craters. That may or may not be the way to go - eventually. Roofing over rille valleys may be more logical. Earlier settlements will not be biospherian megastructures but interconnected individually-shielded modular complexes free to grow as needed. The real point is, as he sees, that all the gray engineering in the world cannot build us a viable lunar settlement without the green engineering revolution which has only just timidly begun. To this important work, LUNAX would make some real contribution. -- PK
Return to Lunar Agriculture Experiment
Go to Harvest Moon # 1 Spring '94
Go to Mi.S.S.T. Guidelines for Experiments on Lunar Agriculture
Go to the Nightspan Dark Hardiness Experiment Guidelines (not yet online)
Go to the Soil Evolution Experiment Guidelines (not yet online)
Write David A. Dunlop
Write Peter Kokh - firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Subject-Related Articles from Moon Miners' Manifesto
* Unlinked articles are not yet published online.
MMM # 2 Moon Garden
MMM # 64 Biosphere II
MMM # 8 Parkway
MMM # 64 Towards Biosphere Mark III
MMM # 31 Green Earth, Clean Moon
MMM # 66 Techno-CELSS
MMM # 36 Biospherics
MMM # 68 Cornucopia Crops
MMM # 38 Introducing LUNAX
MMM # 83 Book Review "Green Mars"
MMM # 40 "Cloacal" vs. "Tri-treme" Plumbing
MMM # 85 Farm Tarns
MMM # 40 Composting Toilets
MMM # 40 Methane
MMM # 41 Mars Agriculture Experiments