Alien soil from the moon, Mars or an asteroid can potentially be used as a heat shield for future spacecrafts to re enter our atmosphere.
Instead of leaving our atmosphere with a heat shield, the spacecraft would obtain one from another surface, like the moon, and build one there using a robotic device. Since heat shields are so heavy spacecrafts would be able to carry more equipment when they launch into space.
Michael Hogue, a researcher at NASA's Kennedy Space Center came up with the idea about a year ago.
"Others were talking about how regolith can be used to make bricks or landing pads and I said, 'Well, if it's good for that, why can't it be used to make atmospheric entry heat shields?' " Hogue said according to NASA.
Engineers have been testing different combinations and techniques to test how much heat regolith, extraterrestrial soil, can withstand.
Bricks 2 inches thick and 4 inches in diameter have been tested under immense heat using a blow torch. The front side reached about 4,000 degrees F and the backside only reached about 200 degree F.
According to NASA, Hogue said, "There is an optimum range of density you need to hit for each material where it's light enough to have low enough thermal conductivity, but also structurally strong enough to survive the forces of atmospheric entry. All of our formulations that we tested with a cutting torch at least passed that."
In the next week NASA will be testing regolith at NASA's Ames Research Center in California where it will endure a scorching plasma stream according to NASA. This stream will test the bricks in similar heating conditions for entry in our atmosphere.
It's far from ready but Hogue said his attitude has gone "from guarded skepticism to hopeful enthusiasm" on the effort, according to NASA.
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