Short on real moondust to study, NASA scientists are planning to manufacture huge amounts of fake moon dirt. Apparently, the now-dwindling samples acquired during the Apollo missions aren't nearly enough to test how machinery will act on the lunar surface. As a result, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center has contracted with aerospace R&D firm ORBITEC to manufacture 16 tonnes of three varieties of simulated moon dirt. From NASA Express Science News:
"We need tons of it, mainly for working on technologies for diggers and wheels and machinery on the surface," adds David S. McKay, chief scientist for astrobiology at the Johnson Space Center (JSC)...Link (Thanks, Paul Saffo!)
Source materials used to produce the three simulants will potentially come from locations as diverse as Montana, Arizona, Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, and even some international sites.
Initial lots will weigh just tens of pounds to ensure that the simulant is made correctly. "Eventually we will scale up to larger quantities when we can make sure that there is little variation from batch to batch," (NASA program manager Carole) McLemore said.
Once NASA understands how to make the various simulants, plans are to farm the work out to companies to produce larger batches. "We will have certification procedures in place for vendors to follow so users know that the simulants meet the NASA standards," McLemore said.