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The Apollo program landed a dozen astronauts on the moon from 1969 to 1972, but they were only able to spend three days and six hours exploring its surface because they could not venture far from the life support on the lunar lander. A team of researchers from MIT have designed a packable, inflatable tent that could double the distance astronauts could travel from the lunar base and increase the reachable area by a factor of four.
The tent has a pill shape and can sleep two astronauts. The pod is supported by silicone-coated fabric tubes and has an interior area of 425 cubic feet. When the system is packed, it takes up a space about half the size of a refrigerator. It weighs 273 pounds.
The pod has a reflective shield that can protect astronauts from the sun’s rays. Life support systems on the rover would supply oxygen, food, and water; maintain the temperature in the inflatable habitat; and remove carbon dioxide and excess humidity from the air. A flexible solar array would provide power and recharge the rover’s batteries.
The astronauts would be able to explore with a rover, enter the inflatable tent, remove their space suits, and rest for eight hours before exploring the next day. They would then return to their base.
The tent is designed to protect astronauts from moon dust, which can be hazardous to human health. Moon dust is electrostatically charged, sticks to everything, and is similar to shards of glass. It can cause skin and eye irritation and congestion or lower-airway issues if inhaled. A flexible divider inside the pod would separate the area where the astronauts removed their suits from their sleeping quarters.
The lunar camper is still in the research stage. It is unclear when it might be used since NASA is not currently planning an expedition to the moon.