The future is today: Force fields and underground lunar colonies in the news

It’s 2015, so where is your flying car already? Well, you might not get one any time soon. What’s more, global warming has not accelerated at a rate necessary to force us all into Mylar suits like those that were ubiquitous on the average 1960s-era science fiction television program. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the most futuristic aspect of modern life is the cellphone in your pocket.


But the future that we were promised by Robert Heinlein and Gene Roddenberry might not be as far off as the pessimists imagine. Just this month, two fascinating developments suggest that The World of Tomorrow could soon be a reality.

According to a presentation in delivered to an audience at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference last week, the prospect of creating self-sustaining lunar colonies might not require the vast infrastructural investments necessary to sustain such a venture on the moon’s surface. Instead, the prospect of massive volcanic pockets inside the moon might serve as promising space in which humanity could establish its first extraterrestrial home.

Philadelphia on the moon

“We found that if lunar lava tubes existed with a strong arched shape like those on Earth, they would be stable at sizes up to 5,000 meters, or several miles wide, on the moon,” [Perdue University graduate student David] Blair said. “This wouldn’t be possible on Earth, but gravity is much lower on the moon and lunar rock doesn’t have to withstand the same weathering and erosion. In theory, huge lava tubes – big enough to easily house a city – could be structurally sound on the moon.”

Blair worked with Antonio Bobet, a Purdue professor of civil engineering, and applied known information about lunar rock and the moon’s environment to civil engineering technology used to design tunnels on Earth.

The team found that a lava tube’s stability depended on the width, roof thickness and the stress state of the cooled lava, and the team modeled a range of these variables. The researchers also modeled lava tubes with walls created by lava placed in one thick layer and with lava placed in many thin layers, Blair said.

Only one other study, published in 1969, has attempted to model lunar lava tubes, he said.


In equally exciting news on the space geek front, the Boeing Company recently filed a patent that would make the force field technology that protects spacecraft from interstellar projectiles and energy weapons alike a reality… sort of.

“Just liking the luminescent shields seen in [Star Wars], Boeing’s ‘Method and system for shock wave attenuation via electromagnetic arc’ could provide a real-life layer of protection from nearby impacts to targets,” ABC News reported on Monday. “The downside: It won’t protect from direct hits.”

The system can sense when a shock wave generating explosion occurs near a target. An arc generator then determines the small area where protection is needed from the shock waves.

It then springs into action by emitting laser pulses that ionize the air, providing a laser-induced plasma field of protection from the shock waves.

“Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life. The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shock waves,” the patent says.

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The system appears designed to primarily deflect the blast radius from ordnance like roadside bombs or mortar fire away from vehicles like that shown above. It is, however, a step in the direction of Star Trek-like shielding technology.


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