Skiing That Soft Lunar Powder

In the pastyear, the US, India, China, Japan and the European Space Agency have all madeplans to head to the moon sometime in the next two decades. An recent NASAarticle has valuable tips from Apollo astronauts on an alternative means oflunar travel first suggested by science fiction writer RobertHeinlein - namely, skiing.

"Oh, boy, it'sbeautiful out here! Reminds me of Sun Valley," Apollo 15's Jim Irwindeclared from the Hadley Rille. With lunar soil like "soft powdersnow" Mount Hadley Delta strangely resembled "Dollar Mountain at SunValley, a practice hill with great skiing conditions."

(Mount Hadley Delta [Jim Irwin - NASA])

Apollo 17 geologistHarrison "Jack" Schmitt actually lamented "too bad I don't havemy skis!" from the mountainous Taurus Littrow Valley. Eventually, heperfected a kind of "lunar cross-country style" that worked likethis:

"In the moon's low gravity, you can ski above themoondust--and I did. Imagine swinging your arms and legs cross-country style.With each push of your toe, your body glides forward above ground. Swing,glide, swing, glide. The only marks you leave in the moondust are thetoe-pushes."
(From Jack Skis the Moon)

(Skiing on the Moon [Ulrich Lotzmann])

It's not as far-fetched asit sounds; after all, people do "ski" down the dunes at places likethe Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. However, moondust is even moreabrasive than sand. Earth-sand grains measure about 250 to 500 microns across,and have rounded edges; moondust is about 100 microns across and has sharpedges. Astronauts will need new materials; Teflon is probably too soft. But,with at least fifteen years to go before anyone returns to the Moon, we've gotplenty of time for development.

The Apollo astronauts werenot the first to refer to skiing on the moon. That honor appears to go toRobert Heinlein; he refers to it in his 1939 story Requiem:

MacIntyre bent down without a word and picked up the wideskis necessary to negotiate the powdery ash. Charlie followed his example. Thenthey swung the spare air bottles over their shoulders, and passed out throughthe lock.
(Read more about moonskis).

You might also enjoylearning about the Lunocycle,a specialized lunar bicycle, from Heinlein's 1952 novel TheRolling Stones.

Find out more at Apollo Chronicles: Jack Skis the Moon; thanks to FredKiesche at The Eternal Golden Braid for the tip on this story.

(This Science Fiction inthe News story used with permission from Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction.)

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