back to article Are you extracting the urine, ESA? Why, yes it is, from Moon dwellers to build homes out of lunar regolith. Possibly

Future astronauts will need to be prepared to shed blood, sweat, tears, and, erm, possibly urine, too, if they want to build a home base on the Moon. If explorers really want to colonise Earth’s natural satellite, they’ll need to build something permanent on the surface. Spaceflight is expensive, so sending materials to build …

  1. Montreal Sean

    Pass me some more beer.

    That wall isn't going to build itself!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pass me some more beer.

      Bacon, too, for nitrogen!

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Pass me some more beer.

        I'm a fan of lunarcrete. But curious about resource prioritisation. So urea's also nitrogen rich, which could make it more useful as fertiliser.

        1. adam 40 Bronze badge

          Re: Pass me some more beer.

          Exactly what I was thinking. if you use up all you wee to make concrete and poo making bricks (literally "shitting a brick") then what are you going to use for soil to grow your potatoes when you get left behind after an evacuation (no, not that sort of evacuation...)???

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Pass me some more beer.

            Guessing that goes back to mass balance equations. And also a.. bit of a problem for Green vegans. So kidneys make urea out of ammonia and carbon dioxide. Plants make veg out of fertiliser. Old school methods mean we can use animal waste to fertilise crops. In the absence of lots of animals, we can make fertiliser from synthetic ammonia instead, which we do on account of that being a byproduct of those dreaded hydrocarbons. Kind of a renewable, green industry converting hydrocarbons into carbohydrates I guess.

            Unless of course we decide it's Good Thing(tm) to simultaneously shut down the hydrocarbon industry and increase demand for veg, although because we're less effecient at converting veg to bacon or beefburgers than cattle or pigs, we'd be able to use human waste at a pinch. But same challenge on the Moon, especially as I'm guessing it'll be harder to frack their. Would probably be a long while before our lunar descendents can tuck into some genuine organic tomatoes though. Could solve that by simply having the lunar branch of the soil association redefine 'organic'.

            1. Muscleguy Silver badge

              Re: Pass me some more beer.

              No, urea is made as a breakdown product of amino acids. That is where the Nitrogen comes from. Since the kidneys need urea in order to concentrate the filtered blood fluids so you don’t lose all that water the body will break down needed amino acids to make urea for the kidneys.

              Biological systems are astonishingly good at chemistry but kidneys cannot make urea from CO2 and Water. Our cells can make some of the amino acids we need but they don’t start from CO2 and water either. For a start neither of these sources contain any Nitrogen.

    2. Mips
      Childcatcher

      01.04.2020 Har! Har!

      Yes. Har. Har

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Headmaster

    That's not a 3D printer

    That's just a plastic extruder.

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: That's not a 3D printer

      That's just a plastic extruder.

      In that sense, so are the machines that produce cheesy wotsits and wheat crunchies. The food industry can probably help the ESA process slurries into interesting, albeit less tasty shapes.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

    So I think this could be a winner.

    Obvious question.

    What's it smell like?

    Because living in a structure that smells like an uncleaned nightclub toilet is going to be kind of tough for most people without lots of air freshener.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

      If they've used all the water to build the cabins, the smell of the walls won't be the major problem.

      1. illiad

        Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

        The bad smell you get is when bacteria have their way after a while..

        the stuff from a *healthy* astronaut does not reek as bad..

    2. druck Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

      I'd imagine it will only be used for the outer shell of any moon structure, so you wont be getting any whiffs of astro-pee.

      1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

        I would think that it would only be used as mortar to hold cut blocks in place or to shore up tunnels. I can't imagine it would be particularly efficient to build entire structures out of the stuff.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

      "smells like an uncleaned nightclub toilet "

      I was thinking "gasoline station" but yeah...

      Might also help to spike that mixture with some CAO (aka lime) which would let them make regular old concrete. But I guess the idea was to use "lunar-only materials" so unless there's a limestone quarry on the moon, they're stuck with regolith and piss.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: ESA have been working on urine recyc for years on the ISS

        Since limestone is made from the skeletons of old shell bearing sea beasties the presence of limestone on the moon would be HUGE news. Those ‘seas’ being real seas once and not just once, long enough for life to evolve shelled animals.

    4. Scroticus Canis
      Coat

      Re: What's it smell like?

      Grandma's house.

  4. Pete 2

    What goes around comes around

    > a waste product, such as the urine of the personnel who occupy the moon bases

    Any Moon base will have to be a closed system. There will be no such thing as a waste product.

    As for using materials (and resources) available on the Moon? The other thing there is plenty of is sunlight. How about tightly focusing that to fuse the regolith into solid blocks, or refining out the metals and building the structures with that.

    Or do what The Jam suggested: Going Underground?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What goes around comes around

      But those are solved problems thus not open for funding. ;)

      I think NASA does well, and SpaceX is the new way of doing things fast, and ULA seem to have a nice progressive slow burn going.

      Though that's only in the rocket design mainly. I'd like to see those types of methods of development used elsewhere too. Progress driven, results driven and not "pie in the sky" imagination and dreams only.

      1. Irongut Silver badge

        Re: What goes around comes around

        > ULA seem to have a nice progressive slow burn going... Progress driven, results driven and not "pie in the sky" imagination and dreams only.

        You realise ULA is Boeing right? Atm Boeing don't seem to be able to build a human rated flying vehicle that doesn't have massive design flaws.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: What goes around comes around

      Fused rock or metal may not deal with the extremes of temperature too well without failing, however, using solar power to creat fibres from the regolith would be useful. Adding randomly oriented fibre to concretes, aids in strength and resistance to stresses, the biggest problem facing construction on the lunar surface would be the boiling off of any fluids in the mix, before the fluids have had a chance to do their chemical work.

      Hermetically sealed shuttering seems to be in order.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: What goes around comes around

        I'd think a portable air-filled tent would do it (to shield against vacuum while concrete cures).

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: What goes around comes around

      I've heard "make it out of glass" - since regolith is basically SiO2 and Al2O3 (and apparently other things like Titanium) it should be possible. i don't know what effect the Al compounds would have on the glass making though. It'd be a worthwhile experiment to try making moon-glass, see if it's worthy as a construction material. If properly heat treated and thick enough, it'd make an interesting dome, wouldn't it? If nothing else, THERE's your bricks for the piss-n-regolith concrete.

      1. adam 40 Bronze badge

        Re: What goes around comes around

        People who live in lunar glass houses shouldn't throw... micrometeorites?

  5. RM Myers Bronze badge
    Coat

    we have seen that a waste product...could also be used

    What a piss poor rich idea.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: we have seen that a waste product...could also be used

      Soon, Humanity will be pissing all over the Universe !

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: we have seen that a waste product...could also be used

        marking our territory like dogs with fire hydrants...

  6. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Can't help feeling

    That the article picture would have been *so* much nicer had it also included some Clangers.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Can't help feeling

      Sorry - posted before seeing your comment. Have an upvote.

  7. BebopWeBop Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I enjoyed the article, but have to confess disappointed that the editor did not take the opportunity to use a Clangers image (the Soup Dragon?).

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmm

    Well, this certainly explains why UFOs only visit out of town locations, choose to visit people who probably wont be believed, behave in a weird and confusing manner, and disappear again. They're just taking the piss...

    .

    ... mainly so as to help build little moon-huts for keeping their space-cars in, obviously.

    1. Kane Silver badge
  9. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    So

    Moonbase Alpha will actually be called Moonbase Number One.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: So

      I predict a shortage of candidates to stay in Moonbase Beta.

  10. Grikath
    Facepalm

    Why ever?

    So they're proposing locking up the only recyclable nitrogen source by using it for building projects, making it unusable for anything else....

    Like that hydroponics plant that scrubs the CO2 and replenishes that precious, precious oxygen...

    Well thought out, that plan....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why ever?

      Well, protein is high in nitrogen, so presumably there is a cunning plan to supply the Moon colonists with beef. Has anybody checked whether MacDonalds is involved in any joint projects with SpaceX?

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Why ever?

      I'm sure there are other nitrate-based chemicals that an be imported for that occasional need of ammonia or nitrate-based fertilizer, in larger quantities than human kidneys can produce.

      This does beg the question, HOW MANY people and HOW MUCH BEER would be involved in such a construction project on the moon? I know construction workers would appreciate the beer, and no doubt give willingly of the precious pee in order to move the project forward.

      Establishing a brewery on the moon, though, might make it all worth while.

      Moon Brew! Regolith Ale! Luna-brau! OK I'll stop now...

  11. TeeCee Gold badge
    Coat

    Is construction on the moon complicated?

    No, it's a piece of piss.

  12. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    second picture (extruder) reminds me

    of this "commercial" from the 1970's classic spoof 'The Groove Tube'

    Brown-25

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nasa needs my help

    why does it have to be on the surface? For the photo op?

    Why not just tunnel underground,excavate and inflate some sort of bouncy castle you live inside.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: nasa needs my help

      since it's filling up the inside of a tunnel it reminds me of another product, often made of latex...

      But yeah, portable inflatable houses are probably the first to be put there. They don't shield against radiation very well, though. However, dirt and concrete are pretty good, requiring about 1 foot per tenth thickness (where lead and steel are 1 and 2 inches, respectively). Basic idea, for every foot of regolith-crete, you'd reduce radiation by a factor of 10. You'd need about 2 feet of it to lower to 1% of what it is outside the enclosure, which would most likely be acceptable for normal humans and long-term stay.

      One source suggests that radiation levels of 38REM/year (380mSv for people who were roped into using the 'new, shiny' units) are typical, and it can get as high as 100REM if there are coronal mass ejections and things of that nature. Yes, bad. 100 REM is considered a fatal dose if you get it in a short period of time. Spread over a year, you'd survive, but probably get cancer or something equally bad, and you'd probably feel sick a lot.

      So 1 percent of THAT would be 380mrem/year, which is acceptable. That's about 4 times normal exposure on earth when you consider air travel, medical X rays, and other things. Radiation workers in the USA can receive up to 5 REM per year (50mSv) as occupational exposure, or at least that's what the limits were years ago when I learned about such things. Funny thing, when I was on a NUCLEAR sub back in the day, the shielding was good enough that I got LESS radiation than I normally would, and i was within 150 feet of an operating nuclear reactor most of the time...

      anyway, enough science. Back to the snark and potty humor.

      1. Psmo Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: nasa needs my help

        another product, often made of latex...

        So... building a condom-inium, then?

        How extrudinary!

  14. Roger Kynaston Bronze badge
    Flame

    current UK political angle?

    Given that our illustrious but virus infected PM has been know to talk about spaffing stuff up a wall could he be used in this project?

  15. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Pint

    Pour me some beer

    if you want that wall built faster

    Hey, there are worse excuses for raising a glass

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Living on the surface of the moon is stupid

    You don't have to worry about freeze/thaw cycles if you live underground, which is where any sensible lunar or Mars base should be located to avoid cosmic rays which can penetrate up to several meters of material so if you want to live on the surface you better build your lunar pisscrete igloo with some pretty thick blocks!

    1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: Living on the surface of the moon is stupid

      Yeah, what Doug said. Underground solves a whole load of issues that the surface has and the only negative relative to surface living is the possibility of moon-quakes causing splits in your containment. For this the containment ideally needs to be self healing or at least leak indicating. Since the regolith is mostly silicon and aluminium I'd recommend using electrolysis to pull the Al from the regolith and use that to line your tunnels as Al flexes and stretches a little. You then use the remaining Si to coat the Al with a glaze that would fracture off the surface in areas where it deforms too much. Either way it's gonna take some serious bootstrapping to get going up there and a whole load of stuff will need to be sent there at great costs before it becomes self sufficient.

  17. ILLQO

    Never self sufficient, but we could get close

    IMHO, the moon will never be self sufficient, even if there is water locally sourced there will still be a need to import micronutrients and large chemical stores. On the bright side if the moon does have a large source of H3 as expected it could pay for itself with enough setup, we send up chemicals they send down h3 and any large mineral sources if they find it. Keep this going long enough and keep pushing recycling tech and we could get the loop closed enough that it gets really cheap to do so. But I never expect the moon to be a completely closed system.

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