By Anton Ferreira
Lunar Colony Could Go Up Soon — on Earth
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The city fathers of a California town plan to build the world's first lunar colony, but they will skip the tricky part of going to the moon to do it.
The city council of Hesperia, in the Mojave desert 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles, voted in January to make a site available for a full-scale settlement of the kind that might one day be built on the moon or distant planets.
Funding has yet to be found but the plan is to use the same techniques local architect Nader Khalili believes could be used by astronaut construction teams. Iranian-born Khalili is the founder and director of the Cal-Earth Institute in Hesperia, which promotes ideas for building safe, comfortable, affordable housing of earth and other readily available materials.
He initially developed his method as a way of housing those around the world who have no adequate shelter, but he believes it could also be applied on the moon or Mars.
"He's quite a visionary. He's before his time," Hesperia Mayor Jim Lindley told Reuters. Lindley said the city did not have the $100,000 needed to kick start the prototype lunar colony but would assist in fund raising.
"We're going to help where we can, we can help with community support, community organization. With the backing of the city council we can help him get the grants necessary to finish his project," he said.
"We are very interested in education in our area and there's been some interest from NASA and other universities to pursue (his) concepts. ... We'd like to have that kind of activity in our city, of course, anybody would."
From Skyscrapers To Mud Huts
Khalili, who used to design conventional skyscrapers before turning his attention to housing the poor, reached a milestone in his career 20 years ago when he found a simple way to make the traditional domed or vaulted mud-brick houses of his native Iran more resistant to earthquakes and weather.
He set oil-fueled burners in the buildings and baked them for two or three days until the clay-brick walls and roof turned red hot, making the structure into a ceramic house -- a process he dubbed "geltaftan,"' Persian for "fired structure."
The ceramic houses were impervious to rain or snow and safe from all but the most powerful earthquakes.
Since then he has developed a method called "superadobe," essentially rows of bags filled with sand dug from the house site and piled up to form walls. Barbed wire is laid between the rows to reinforce and help hold the bags together.
Houses built by this method in Hesperia, an earthquake zone, have passed seismic tests and been granted approval by the city's building inspectors.
In 1984 Khalili was invited to a NASA-sponsored symposium on lunar bases where he explained how geltaftan and superadobe could be adapted for lunar use. He conducted an experiment at the McDonnell Douglas Space Systems laboratories to show that the heat of the sun could be harnessed to melt and fuse the soil on the lunar surface, turning it into blocks, fibers or other shapes in an outer space version of geltaftan.
If It Can Work On The Moon, It Can Work On Earth
Khalili, whose Web site is www.calearth.org, said in an interview the planned lunar colony in Hesperia would demonstrate these possibilities and boost the image of earth as a modern building material of the future.
"It's extremely exciting to be able to work on this," he said. "If we can get some funding going, we can show that 'mud houses' can solve housing problems across the world. ... Unfortunately, most third world people sneer at them, they have lost respect for their traditional houses."
Mike Duke, a staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, contracted by NASA to perform support services, praised the Hesperia plan.
"I like the idea because it illustrates what is a useful theme for future space development, and at the same time it shows that there are some potential practical applications on Earth for things that people will eventually develop for space," Duke said.
"It's certainly true that if we want to build habitats on the moon for significant numbers of people for significant periods of time, we'll probably make them out of material on the moon, not bring them from the Earth."
Duke said he knew of no other project like the one planned in Hesperia. "There are a few ideas that have been reported in the literature but I don't think anybody has taken it even to laboratory experiment stage, so he (Khalili) has jumped a couple of steps actually."