back to article Desperately seeking regolith: NASA seeks proposals for collecting Moon dirt

Got a Moon rocket handy? NASA is looking for proposals from the private sector for scraping bits off the surface of the Moon. Breathlessly announced today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, the expectation is that at least one company will step up to collect a lump of regolith before the agency's 2024 deadline for putting …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Confused

    I have just read the article several times and am still not sure if the regolith samples are to be returned to Earth as a part of the mission or just left in a bin somewhere for NASA to pick up when they eventually get there.

    Am I being dumb or is the article unclear?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Confused

      Well, the article specifically states that "Delivery occurs on the Moon's surface".

      So that means that NASA is asking private companies to go collect rocks, and NASA will go and get them.

      That makes zero sense.

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Confused

      By the sounds of it, it's left there on the Moon for NASA to deal with as it needs. From the announcement:

      "...conduct an 'in-place' transfer of ownership of the lunar regolith or rocks to NASA. After ownership transfer, the collected material becomes the sole property of NASA for our use."

      C.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Confused

        That's how I read it but can't see the sense in that.

        1. Killing Time

          Re: Confused

          Well it makes sense if the motive is not really about collecting these initial samples in a short timescale.

          It seems to me that they are trying to kickstart a commercial prospecting industry. If private industry can come up with competitive / cost effective ways of collecting the materials from various disparate locations across the Moon ( i.e. ice is only suspected to exist in deep, permanently shaded craters) NASA doesn't need to worry about that aspect of prospecting. They can focus on a common return / analysis system.

          Something a moon base could be useful for perhaps?

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Confused

        Some of the terms used in the solicitation document appear to terms of art from the international shipping world. "FOB Destination", for example, which means that the ownership of goods is transferred from the seller to the buyer when they reach the buyer's dock.

        It seems likely that a reader versed in accountancy, international commercial contracts or shipping will have an easier time deciphering it than many of the Reg's other readers might.

        1. quxinot Silver badge

          Re: Confused

          Seriously goofy wording, there.

          I mean, I'll bid on it if the delivery is on-site. Sure, I went there. I left you all the regolith in space, ready for delivery. I took the trouble of shaping it into a moon-like shape before I left, even.

          How do I collect my fee?

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Confused

            > I took the trouble of shaping it into a moon-like shape

            Indeed, that's what troubles me too: What could possibly be the point? The technically challenging part is usually bringing stuff back, not scooping it up in the first place.

            Given the quantity asked for, the best option is simply to shoot an open empty steel box violently against the lunar surface, in the hope some of the dirt will land inside. "Here you go, what's inside is yours. Pay up!"

  2. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

    Paper lander

    The reg can do it

  3. HildyJ Silver badge
    Devil

    Sounds like a job for Super Elon

    He could send a Boring Machine up there after he finishes his Las Vegas tunnel.

    It makes as much sense as anything in this PR fluff.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Sounds like a job for Super Elon

      Yowsers, PR fluff isn't normally written to resemble this document's bureaucratic contractual legal speak.

      Example, document states:

      'Delivery is FOB Destination'

      Which meant nothing to me, but apparently is a common term. From an accountancy website:

      'FOB destination is a contraction of the term "Free on Board Destination." The term means that the buyer takes delivery of goods being shipped to it by a supplier once the goods arrive at the buyer's receiving dock.'

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Sounds like a job for Super Elon

        FOB is the contractual indicator of where, during the transfer of goods, the transfer of ownership and liability for shipped goods happens.

        Usually origin and destination are places specified.

  4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    My dog ...

    ... will help

    1. RavenBlue

      Re: My dog ...

      Provided it doesn't get distracted by a Chinese rabbit

  5. Sleep deprived

    I'm not getting it

    If NASA brought back 328kg during the Apollo program, why would they want 300g more now?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I'm not getting it

      The exercise is more about developing the technology required to take samples from the moon and Mars in future. And in the future, taking small samples from many areas gives you information that one big sample from one area cannot.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Vacuum adapted D9!

        I think an autonomous.. err... Hilldozer would be more fun. So something that can trundle across the lunar surface scooping up regolith and analysing it in-situ. Like wot various Marsbots have been doing. But bigger!

        And bonus points if they can ingest regolith, fuse it, and drop bricks behind itself. And more bonus points if it can be programmed to carve out... roads. That spell out 'Keep of the Grass!' when viewed from space.

        But given the mass required, I guess that's something that would need an ISS-Heavy Engineering module to assemble Hilldozers in space, then deliver to the lunar surface. Civil Engineers in spaaaace!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: Vacuum adapted D9!

          'Keep off the Grass!'

          FTFY. Best to get it write if you want it to be viewed from space :-)

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Vacuum adapted D9!

            Ah, er.. I meant it as a sign to let lunar tourists know where to find the castle made by the Moon's former basket weaving inhabitants. Distant relatives to gabbleducks you know..

            But it also got me thinking about how autonomous dozers/brick/lunarcrete drones could navigate around the Moon. Figured beacons would work, but also how reliant we've perhaps become with tech like GPS.

  6. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    No doubt all part of NASA's classified human/alien hybrid program!!

    Get some dirt from the Moon, filter out the alien DNA, splice that with human DNA and then colonize space with the compliant and hardy, but unholy, progeny. Meanwhile, NASA leaves homo sapiens and their need for radiation-proof, gravity-bound and oxygen-rich environments to rot on this rock.

    I knew this was coming, now you know it too!

    1. My-Handle Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: No doubt all part of NASA's classified human/alien hybrid program!!

      I always wondered why I had such a hard time understanding humans

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Terminator

    2024 - the first sample is handed over by a robot

    2025 - alternative designs arrive and also deliver samples

    2026 - some of the alternate designs observe it is easier to hijack loads already collected by other robots

    2027 - hijacked robots discover ways to retrieve their cargo while damaging the hijackers

    2028 - robots begin to group together both for attack and defence

    2029 - robots discover they can re-use parts of other robots to improve their capabilities

    2030 - robots form societies with trading for both robot parts and moon samples

    2031 - NASA completely buried under the amount of samples delivered

    2032 - robots begin to look at that big blue thing in the sky and wonder...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 2024 - the first sample is handed over by a robot

      Is this the "origin story" for Transformers and Decepticons?

  8. bonkers

    Done it !

    I'm quoting just £10,000, for a 250g moonrock, ready and waiting for the 'in-place' transfer of ownership.

    I won't post the co-ordinates just yet - but It's the one just above the Buzz Aldrin footprint in the picture attached.

    https://www.sciencephoto.com/media/335554/view/astronaut-footprints-on-the-moon

    They can have the bigger one next to it if they'd rather.

  9. RavenBlue

    SpaceX can do it.

    I can imagine NASA spending billions on figuring a way to collect these sample canisters, then a Starship rocks up, and someone steps out with a shovel and dustbin and says 'How much do you want Jim? Want ice with it?"

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