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Larry Toups tests inflatable lunar habitat in Antarctica

NASA has announced plans to return to the moon by the year 2020 and establish a human presence there. NASA’s Larry Toup told Earth & Sky he is figuring out how to make a tent-like structure that’s compact to transport, and easy to set up on the moon. He and his team plan to test the structure at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has announced plans to return to the moon by the year 2020 and establish a human presence there. As part of that effort, space architects and engineers are designing an inflatable habitat for astronauts on a lunar mission. It’s one of five surface structure prototypes being discussed as possible accommodations for astronauts on long-term stays on other planets.

Earth & Sky spoke to Larry Toups at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. His job is to figure out how to make a structure – sort of like a big tent – that’s light and compact to transport, and easy to set up on the surface of the moon. Toups said the advantage of an inflatable structure is that it can provide more room for less weight.

One of the main challenges is to be sure the structure itself is safe. The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere, so, for example, the inflatable structure has a layer that protects against micrometeroids. In fact, this structure consists of between 7 and 10 layers of lightweight material woven together.

They’re testing it out in Antarctica to see how it performs in an extreme environment analogous to the surface of the moon, or even Mars. NASA has set a deadline for itself – the year 2012 – to decide if the inflatable habitat will get off the ground.

Toups added that the development of the lunar habitat will have benefits for people on Earth, like much of the technology that came out of Apollo and the space age.

Our thanks today to NASA during the International Polar Year.

Our thanks to:
Larry Toups
Lunar Surface Systems Project Office
Constellation Program
NASA Johnson Space Flight Center
Houston, TX

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