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Human urine could help make concrete on Moon for building lunar base station

AP, May 11, 2020 8:45AM Kids News

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The full moon sets behind trees near Frankfurt, Germany, May 7, 2020. Picture: AP media_cameraThe full moon sets behind trees near Frankfurt, Germany, May 7, 2020. Picture: AP

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Reading level: green

Human urine* could one day be used to make concrete to build on the Moon.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said researchers in a recent study it sponsored found that urea, the main chemical ingredient in urine, would make the mixture for a lunar concrete easier to mould into the required shape before it hardens into its sturdy final form.

Using only materials available on the Moon when building a Moon base would reduce the need to launch supplies from Earth.

A Moon base is seen as an important staging point* if humans are to one day visit or set up a base on Mars.

The main ingredient in lunar concrete would be a substance called lunar regolith found on the Moon’s surface. Regolith is a fine, powdery, loose substance mostly made up of ground-up rock that sits on top of rocks on the ground. Earth and other planets also have versions of regolith.

30th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Mission media_cameraAn Apollo 11 astronaut’s footprint (from the 1969 landing) in the lunar regolith, the powdery dust on the surface of the Moon. Regolith and human urine could make strong concrete. Picture: NASA

Adding urea to a mix of lunar regolith and water would make it less thick or stiff to stir, which means the amount of water needed could be reduced, according to ESA.

“Thanks to future lunar inhabitants*, the 1.5 litres of liquid waste a person generates each day could become a promising by-product* for space exploration,” it said in a statement.

QLD_CP_NEWS_DEVELOPMENT_28APR20 media_cameraConcreters smoothing out a newly poured slab while building apartments. On Earth, water rather than urine is used to make the liquid that sets to concrete. Picture: Stewart McLean

“The hope is that astronaut urine could be essentially used as it is on a future lunar base, with minor adjustments to the water content,” study co-author Marlies Arnhof said in the ESA statement. “This is very practical, and avoids the need to further complicate the sophisticated* water recycling systems in space.”

VIDEO: NASA explains its Artemis mission to the Moon. Because it is a US video, it uses miles and pounds rather than kilometres and kilograms

Artemis mission to the moon

ABOUT URINE
Urine is an animal’s liquid waste.

It is mostly water, plus urea (a waste product made when protein* is broken down) and small amounts of other waste products.

Urine is made in the kidneys. Our two kidneys are our body’s blood filters, just like a filter in a swimming pool.

Kidneys remove waste (such as old, dead blood cells) and any toxins*, adding extra water we have drunk that our body doesn’t need.

From the kidneys, the urine is sent to an organ called the bladder to be stored until we go to the toilet.

Human adults make between 800ml and 2 litres of urine in 24 hours.

If someone’s kidneys aren’t working properly they may need to visit a hospital every couple of days so a machine can do the kidney’s work. This is called dialysis. Sometimes, people without working kidneys are able to have a kidney transplant.

On Earth, urea from animal urine is mostly used as a fertiliser to add to soil to grow healthy crops and grass.

Donald cropping update media_cameraJarred Newell in an oat crop at Donald, Victoria, holding urea, which is being used as a fertiliser for the crop. Picture: Dannkika Bonser

GLOSSARY

  • urine: the scientific name for wee
  • staging point: rest or supply stop on a long journey
  • inhabitants: people who live there
  • by-product: extra product made by a process
  • sophisticated: complex
  • protein: important nutrient or substance that helps build new cells in a living thing
  • toxins: things that are poisonous or unhealthy to the body

EXTRA READING

NASA reveals camp plans for life on the Moon

Herd of Earth’s toughest animals left on Moon

The Eagle has landed … and man walks on the Moon

Ticket sold for Moon orbit

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is ESA?
  2. Name two benefits of using human urine for lunar concrete.
  3. What or who is Artemis in this story?
  4. What is the job of the kidneys?
  5. What is the main use for urea on Earth?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Calculate …
Read through the article carefully and write down the ingredients for ‘lunar concrete’.

While this is a great discovery it does lead to other questions that will need to be considered for practicality. Given it will take a team of four astronauts to run the Artemis missions, how much urine can be produced by them?

Calculate:

  • How much urine can a team of astronauts make in a day? (Your answer should be a range ‘between __ and __ litres)
  • How much can be produced in a week?
  • How much can be produced in a month (31 days)?
  • Where will they store the urine?

Draw a storage tank that will store 250 litres of urine.

Where would you include that in the spacecraft?

How long would it take the four astronauts to fill this tank?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Design and Technologies, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Make sure you have watched the video. You may like to watch sections of it again to make sure you include everything in this task.

Draw a picture of the rocket that NASA is building for a future Artemis mission. Label all parts of the spacecraft (for example, solid rocket boosters). Make sure you include all sections including those that cannot be seen when the rocket is complete (for example, crew module, storage module). You might like to include an ‘inset’ picture to include these areas.

Make a list of all the safety measures you see or hear to protect NASA’s ‘greatest asset’. (There will be many more safety measures that we would not know about.)

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Technologies – Design and Technologies, The Arts – Visual Arts

VCOP ACTIVITY
Connective Collection
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you like to live or work on the Moon?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in space