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Japan may help US to 'explore' Mars and the Moon

Japan may help US to 'explore' Mars and the Moon

作者:潘软颠  时间:2019-02-26 04:05:00  人气:

By HELEN GAVAGHAN in WASHINGTON DC JAPAN’s big push into space was strengthened last week when a consortium of 20 Japanese companies offered to help a feasibility study for a large laboratory to simulate the environments on the Moon and Mars. The project is being planned by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, where it still needs approval from Congress. The laboratory, better known for its military and nuclear energy research, sees the project as a contribution to a programme which will send astronauts back to the Moon and then on to Mars. Steven Howe, from Los Alamos, told a symposium in Washington last week: ‘If we are to spend billions of dollars returning to the Moon, somebody somewhere will have to build a facility to test how well equipment works over an extended period on the Moon.’ Howe says that the laboratory would cost about $20 million, and that he would like the Japanese to take an equal share. The feasibility study, he says, will cost a few hundred thousand dollars. The Institute for Future Technologies, a non-profit-making group with about 20 Japanese industrial members, is already negotiating with Los Alamos over help with the funding. The Japanese consortium first approached Los Alamos after the laboratory presented its ideas in 1989. Since then, Howe has extended the project to include testing for the surface of Mars. He expects to hear within weeks whether or not the Japanese intend to go ahead with the study. The test site is one of several ideas developed by Howe and his colleagues over the past five years. These ideas languished until President George Bush announced last July that the US would return to the Moon, ‘this time to stay’, and would then go on to Mars. Even then, says Howe, he was unable to interest NASA in the idea. Last November, however, NASA published a study of the technology needed for the Moon/Mars initiative and was widely criticised for not seeking innovative ideas (This Week, 25 November 1989). The National Space Council instructed the agency to look for new and cheaper ways of fulfilling the president’s initiative. Since then, says Howe, NASA has shown more interest in the work at Los Alamos, including the simulation project. Los Alamos has more ideas about how to simulate conditions on the Moon than it does about simulating conditions on Mars because more data are available to describe the Moon’s harsh environment. Temperatures on the Moon range from -173 Degree C to 117 Degree C, cosmic rays bombard the surface, the pressure is about 0.13 nanobars compared with 1 bar on Earth, gravity is only one-sixth that on Earth, and in these conditions dust from lunar soil is a severe problem. The low pressure also means that metal parts stick to each other. Howe says that the test site would simulate the temperature, vacuum and dusty conditions. Clearly, it cannot reproduce the lower gravity, and the effects of cosmic rays on people and electronics would be studied elsewhere. A type of the mineral ilmenite will be used in the exercises because it closely resembles lunar soil. Even after treatment, though, the soil will still contain volatile materials given off in a vacuum. As a result, the vacuum would be no lower than about 0.13 millibars, not 0.13 nanobars. Nevertheless, Howe believes this would be low enough to carry out tests to establish the reliability of equipment, and so reduce the failsafe mechanisms needed and the costs they incur. The University of New Mexico will provide land, and the US Air Force will provide vacuum tanks,