May 13, 2009
There are some challenges to overcome in order to create Shadow Shaping images on the Moon. The fact that the Mars Rovers have been traveling successfully over the surface of Mars for several years would indicate that technology is mature enough to support Shadow Shaping. There are some additional factors to consider.
1- Gravity – It currently costs thousands of dollars per pound to move payloads from the Earth to the moon. Most of this is spent overcoming the Earth’s gravity. As space transportation technology improves this number will become much cheaper. Meanwhile, Shadow Shaping robots will need to be lightweight and compact, at least during transportation.
2- Distance – The Moon is nearly 400 thousand km away from Earth. In order to make images that can be seen from Earth with the naked eye, images would need to be millions of square kilometers in size. In order to create these images within a reasonable amount of time, a fleet of Shadow Shaping robots would be needed. The cost per robot will need to be kept to a minimum. They should also be designed for maximum speed while still being able to avoid collisions with large rocks and obstacles.
1- Fire and Ice – Temperatures on the Moon range from 107°C during the day to -153°C at night. The temperatures on Mars can be nearly as cold (-140 °C) during the polar winters, but the summers are relatively mild (20 °C). During the lunar nights, the Shadow Shaping robots can put themselves in hibernation mode to protect themselves from the cold. But during the days the robots need to be fully operational. They need to be shielded from the radiant heat of the ground and the wheels need to be able to handle the heat without conducting it to the sensitive internal components.
2- Static Cling – The lunar surface is covered with extremely fine dust made from pulverized rock. The dust tends to cling to everything. It is also extremely abrasive, like sandpaper. The wheels will need to be designed so that they do not get clogged up with dust, perhaps with brushes on the front of the wheels that keep the Shadow Shaping voids clear. The wheels will also need to be hard so they do not wear out.
3- Navigation – Creating images on the surface of the Moon will require some sophisticated navigation technology. Visual pattern recognition combined with gyroscopic instrumentation could be used. Other possibilities include triangulation from lunar satellites or remote control from Earth.
Currently commercial space projects are extremely regulated, especially in the United States, and even more so if the projects involve radioactive materials (used mostly as heaters to protect sensitive components from extremely cold temperatures). It would be best if the robots could be designed to work without radioactive heaters. It may also be necessary to partner with governments, or launch the robots from countries besides the United States, to avoid excessive regulation and delays in getting launch approval.
Some groups of people may object to changing the appearance of the Moon for religious, environmental or sentimental reasons. Most of these objections can be handled through proper framing. For example, commercial space development can take the place of governmental space development to a degree, freeing up federal funds to better deal with humanitarian and social issues. While Shadow Shaping can last for thousands of years, it can also be erased by Shadow Shaping robots as easily as it is created. It is just a collection of small ridges made in the lunar dust. It has no impact to the lunar environment, and it only creates images during partial lunar phases, leaving the full Moon unchanged.
Advancements in space robotics as a result of Shadow Shaping, will aid in the colonization of outer space, helping preserve mankind from the inherent dangers of placing all of our species’ eggs in one basket, planet Earth. Any number of catastrophic events could end human life on Earth: Pandemics, collisions with comets or asteroids, weapons of mass destruction, supercollider accidents, environmental changes, hypernova radiation or the expansion of the Sun. Only by leaving the cradle of our home planet can we ensure our long-term survival.
Shadow Shaping images need to blend with the natural shades and shadows of the region in which they are made for the best results with the least amount of effort. This requires planning and research for optimal image placement.