Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Retired UTD professor makes fake moon dirt his new career
As a recognized expert on lunar soil, who else you gonna call if you're building machines that need to operate on the moon?
Dr. James L. Carter retired recently from the University of Texas at Dallas faculty after 43 years of service. Dr. Carter is a familiar figure to anyone involved in the geosciences in the metroplex, be they professional or amateur. While over the course of his career he's been involved in all sorts of earth science stuff, it turns out that moon science is the field he'll be concentrating on after leaving his position at UTD.
That's because he's one of the leading experts on lunar soil (stemming from samples that NASA sent to Dr. Carter following the first Apollo lunar landing mission). Not only does he know a lot about it, he knows how to fabricate it - or at least a facsimile of it that will act like real moon dirt when quantities of that scarce resource are needed by engineers who want to build machines to operate on the moon.
Carter's company - ETSimulants - makes tons of fake moon dirt (known in the trade as "lunar regolith simulant," which moniker probably adds solid dollars per pound to the selling price) for use by just those sorts of space exploration industries. As Dr. Carter puts it, "When you land on the moon, all this dry, dry dust blows into the space craft’s engines. The astronauts’ safety rests on this substance being correct. There can be no mechanical failures once you’re parked on the moon’s surface.” (Well, or course there CAN be such failures, but it would be preferable to avoid them, and thus the success of Carter's lunar soil duplicating business venture.) So far his chief client has been NASA, but with the emergence of free enterprise in the space game that could all change.
Dr. Carter operates his counterfeit moon dirt concern from "a secret location" in North Texas, and of course his formulation for putting together the regolith stuff is more closely-guarded than the recipe for Bush's baked beans. Apparently the finished product looks a lot like charcoal ash, and the source rocks (volcanic in nature) come from Arizona.
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