back to article Boffins: Send robot lawn tractors to the Moon

Corporate and academic robotics boffins in the States say they have validated plans for creating a spaceship landing field on the Moon using small droid dump-trucks "the size of riding mowers". You might think that there's no great need for a prepared spaceship field on the Moon - after all, the ships will have to set down …


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  1. Tanuki

    It can be done cheaper.

    Rather than go to all that hassle: I rather think the gang of workmen doing local road-resurfacing work could be induced - cash-in-hand - to lay a little bit of the 'spare' Tarmac they invariably have left over from such jobs, for use as a nice landing-strip?

    NASA would probably insist on getting a VAT receipt though.

  2. Michael Miller

    Why not just detonate a clean tactical nuke?

    That'd dust off a considerable area. Plus it'll let those pesky moon men we mean business.

  3. goggyturk


    As long as we do it from orbit. Just to be sure...

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Voracious mankind

    First we rape and pillage our own planet.

    Then we plan to do the same to our only satellite.

    Beware, the aliens are watching, and taking notes... :-o

  5. BigTim

    "Almost inifinite"

    What's that number that's the difference between "almost" and "infinity" again?

  6. jeffrey

    Helium 3

    Surely a cheaper way to assemble helium-3 would be to assemble the damn stuff atom by atom on earth? And even that would be ridculous.

  7. mrlumpy

    Moon district council

    Can't see them getting planning permission.

  8. Remy Redert

    Nuclear development

    I have to agree there, a fission iniated thermonuclear warhead detonated at the appropriate level to liquify part of the top soil should do the job quite nicely, assuming you can find a spot near the poles where the rocks are big and heavy enough to pull that little trick.

    Failing that, however, you wouldn't be able to dust off any substantial area with a nuclear weapon, because there is nothing to transfer the heat and radiation into a shockwave to do the dusting off with, you would at best affect only the materials right next to your impact site.

    There's also the problem that a warhead made to liquify part of the soil to produce a hardened landing pad would need to go off at just the right point to prevent vaporisation from throwing your soil all over the place and just making things worse.

    And last but not least, there's no such thing as a clean tactical nuclear weapon. All fission based weapons are dirty. Up on the moon, however, any fall-out from a nuclear weapon would be a moot point compared to the large doses of radiation that the sun regularly throws our way. And any radioactive dust that decides to settle on your base can just be carted off and dropped somewhere else. There's no wind to shift it about after all.

  9. The Dorset Rambler

    build a berm?

    Am I the only one who read that and thought Inspector Clouseau had entered the building?

  10. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    @Helium 3

    "Surely a cheaper way to assemble helium-3 would be to assemble the damn stuff atom by atom on earth?"

    A process which would no doubt go like:

    To 1 atom of Helium 3, add nothing.

    Or did you mean creating it from hydrogen and deuterium, which IIRC needs much higher temperatures for fusion than those needed to fuse atoms of helium 3 together, which pretty much negates the point of making it., which is that it fuses at lower, more achievable temperatures than aforementioned isotopes of hydrogen?

  11. Joe

    Aren'ty there international laws...

    against nukes in space? Not that that'd stop anybody, but just thought I'd ask

  12. McFlurry

    @The Dorset Rambler

    Seriously I just yelped trying to contain my laughter.

    After Nasa's recent exploits I'm not that sure they could manage this within the next ten years or so.

  13. Warhelmet

    BMX on the Moon

    I thought that "berm" was a term that was rarely used outside of BMX circles. Obviously I am wrong.

    BMX on the Moon sounds like a 8-bit game.

    Nukes? No, use orbital mirrors. There's no atmosphere to get in the way. Vitrification.

  14. jeffrey

    @Ed Blackshaw

    "To 1 atom of Helium 3, add nothing.

    Or did you mean creating it from hydrogen and deuterium"

    NO, I was thinking more along the lines of HOW THEY ACTUALLY MAKE IT ALREADY

    Take some Lithium bombard it with neutrons to make tritium, and then collect up the helium-3 from the tritium decay. No nuclear fusion of Hydrogen isotopes necassary. It's just a byproduct from a nuclear fission reactor. The second part of my statement "And even that would be ridculous." is why bother with 2nd generation nuclear fusion reactors on earth when A) First gen ones aren't making energy constantly yet B) The fuel is to expensive C) It is cheaper to make it on earth than ship it from the moon anyway.

  15. Lionel Baden

    i like the idea

    but i think what they really want is little holes in the ground with opening roofs

    That would be much cooler !!!

  16. easyk


    I first heard the term “berm” when I was working with Marines at Fort Carson. I know they use the word constantly.

    As in; “you can setup your equipment by that berm.”

    I think it is a common mil-speak word for a wall-like low hill or mound.

  17. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Just bury the moon base in regolith

    The moonbase will need radiation shielding anyway, so landers throwing more regolith onto it are doing something useful. You might want to time landings to when the solar panels are pointing away from the landing field because they might not work so well after a thorough sandblasting.

    (We are already at least a decade behind schedule with the moon - not a single nuclear reactor. There should have been enough to blast the moon out of its orbit ten years ago ;-)

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Am I the only one...

    ...who imagines that if this venture succeeds, after years of mining the moon, the mass will be sufficiently reduced to affect the tides on Earth?

  19. David Pollard

    It's almost Friday

    Some years ago, when NASA was testing kit in the desert, an Indian and his son had watched the assembled machinery and men wearing space suits walking around. After a while they went over to inquire what was going on. Learning that this was preparation for the first journey to the moon, the son, translating for his father who didn't speak English, asked if they would take a brief message with them to give to anyone who lived there.

    Officials went off to ponder and decided that this would be great PR. As the son said he didn't write, they procured a tape recorder. The son also said his father had specifically told him not to translate the message.

    Slightly puzzled, the officials went off with the recording to find someone who would provide a translation to use in the press release Time and again, those they asked laughed and firmly refused.

    Eventually, with the help of a largish bundle of dollars, they found someone who agreed to translate the message. "Well, what does it say?" they asked when the translator had regained his composure.

    "Greetings to you who live here. Be warned. These people have come to steal your land."

  20. Anonymous Coward


    "Astrobotic aims to kick off its Moon mining and construction odyssey by winning the $20m Google X-Prize. This will mean visiting the Apollo 11 landing site and transmitting HD video back to Earth, which Astrobotic reckon to do next year."

    I'll go and visit a movie set in the middle of Nevada with an HD camera for them for $20m.

  21. ian

    "the Moon’s almost infinite number of impact craters"

    Surely one can be found of the right size and shape, requiring only minimal retooling.

    Mine's the one with the "Working smarter, not harder" award in the pocket.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ ian

    'Surely one can be found of the right size and shape, requiring only minimal retooling.'

    Nice idea, sadly the Moon has almost no exposed bedrock. The bigger craters were all gouged out more than a billion years ago and since then any exposed rock has been eroded into regolith by micrometeorites and radiation.

    What we really need is a huge moonbase with fancy elevators that can take spaceships down into an underground hanger. Then we can use the Moon to store all our nuclear waste.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  23. The Badger

    Re: BMX on the Moon

    "BMX on the Moon sounds like a 8-bit game."

  24. Chris

    @ Flocke Kroes

    "(We are already at least a decade behind schedule with the moon - not a single nuclear reactor. There should have been enough to blast the moon out of its orbit ten years ago ;-)"

    It wasn't reactors, it was a nuclear waste dump where the waste was a little too close together and started a runaway chain reaction.

    Anyway, never mind that, we are also 8 years behind on that orbiting space station that rotates in time to Strauss waltzes. And where is the Pan Am shuttle?

    Alien, of course.

  25. Gilbert Wham

    All this talk of Helium-3... merely a sideshow. They want a moonbase for the same reason you or I do: because it would be fucking *awesome*.

  26. Mister Cheese


    Yes, but it's mine - I have the deeds to prove it. It's where I keep my Wensleydale mine.

  27. Neoc

    Shirley (...and don't call me...)

    From Article: 'using small droid dump-trucks "the size of riding mowers".'


  28. Daniel B.

    Re: Why not just detonate a clean tactical nuke?

    You *did* watch the Time Machine remake, did you?

    Mine's the one with the crumbling moon...

  29. Bounty

    units of moon tractors

    "a brace of lawn-tractor sized 330lb robot dumptrucks would be delivered to the construction site and build a berm "

    First of all, what the hell is "a brace" of anything. Is that like a dozen or something? Is it a term used only when talking about tractors? Like a flock of sheep or a pallet of boxes?

    Anyways, maybe just ship some asphalt and make a launch pad the size of a helicopter pad? I doubt it would need to be thick because of the low gravity. Also doesn't the surface have a fair amount of aluminum, send it through an oven and make bricks.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Ecaps 9991

    I have an idea for a cheap Sci Fi series for tellie!

  31. Herby

    Wrong Title.

    Not Ecaps 9991, but "9991 Ecaps".

  32. Bloody_Yank

    Working on the moon

    Working on the moon base would be really cool. Until you got laid off ... that is one long fucking walk home. Not to mention the whole re-entry thing.

    But seriously - we should really finish destroying the Earth before moving onto other planets or orbiting bodies. If we start destroying the Moon and the Earth it will just take twice as long, and nobody wants that.

  33. John Angelico


    Dear me, ever heard of a dictionary?

    Brace = a pair

    Just to save your poor li'l fingers...which have typed a lot more in asking the question than would have been required to find the answer.

  34. Tom Paine

    What's the point of that, then?

    "Only thing the Moon is good for is Oxygen and Aluminium and Titanium and Solar Cells and ..."

    ...other things that we already have here on earth? Hmmm.

    I do like the idea of an Atomic Berm, though. I could admire it from my ruem. Along with my minkey.

  35. David Stever
    Thumb Down

    @Vacuum.Head - I agree with you

    I've been reading for years that all they needed to do was land a microwave beamer that would roll around and cook the surface, to make a paved parking lot. Having a guy go around after to paint the stripes and such might add some value to the proceedings. Maybe having a berm around the house would be a good idea to keep crap from flying off the landers themselves, but all this talk of tractors on the moon (Killdozer!) is bollocks. The dozers would be good for radiation shielding your tents, and not this massive project described here.

  36. BioTube


    You _do_ realize that the moon isn't normal in the direction of interest, right? Build the second stage there, yes. Use it as a waypoint? Hell no.

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