June 17, 2009 — StudioPLUS Conference Room, North Olmsted, OH
Mark Hyatt, originally a ceramic engineer, began working for NASA soon after receiving his degree in ceramic engineering from the University of Raleigh in the mid 1980’s. Hyatt is currently working as a project manager for Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, OH. His main responsibility is to manage projects which relate to the side-effects of lunar dust on various systems which will operate in the lunar environment.
The discussion began around the dinner table as the Academy students asked Hyatt various questions pertaining to their group project known as BLAST ‘EM. The goal of this project is to develop a novel design for an electromagnetic railgun which can accelerate material from the surface of the moon and place it into orbit. Hyatt discussed various ideas and design considerations concerning this railgun technology. Power generation, energy storage, and construction materials were of particular interest to him. Some of the ideas Hyatt discussed focused on the concept of in-situ utilization of the moon’s natural resources, namely lunar regolith. This provided a perfect segue into Hyatt’s official presentation.
His presentation began by outlining the lessons learned from the Apollo-era moon missions. During these missions, dust mitigation activities proved to be paramount to the success of a mission. Space suite seal failures, abrasion problems, and thermal control issues all resulted from dust contamination. One of the more noteworthy dust mitigation problems occurred on the Apollo 17 lunar rover. This rover lost a rear fender which kept dust from being kicked up by the tires and landing on the rest of the vehicle. Thermal issues developed from the inability of the rover’s batteries to cool due to the dust deposits. A quick-and-dirty fix of the fender was accomplished by the astronauts using an old map and some duct tape.
The second half of Hyatt’s presentation focused on the ability to construct a viable lunar outpost and the technical challenges which are associated with that project. He focused on three major activities: landing and launching, construction activates, and power generation. Some time was spent discussing the difficulties of working with lunar soil, due in large part, to the high compatibility of lunar regolith. Possible benefits of the utilization of natural resources for building materials and oxygen production were also discussed at length. Hyatt also outlined the challenges of mining ore on the moon and extracting useful materials from this ore. His presentation concluded with a brief characterization of the adhesive properties of lunar regolith as well as a discussion of some techniques which may be used by future astronauts to mitigate regolith’s adhesive properties.