As of this writing, there have been twelve humans who know what it feels like to walk on the surface of Earth’s moon and experience lunar gravity – four are still alive to tell us about it. that total will hopefully change in a few years when one or more countries send humans back to the Moon. In the meantime, anyone (with the right credentials and security clearances, of course) can experience lunar gravity right here on Earth in China’s new artificial moon.
Wait a minute … didn’t China just make an artificial Sun?
You certainly are up on your artificial space bodies, Grasshopper. Less than two weeks ago, China's EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak) nuclear fusion “artificial sun” reactor set a new world record by superheating a loop of plasma to temperatures five times hotter than the sun (158 million degrees Fahrenheit or 70 million degrees Celsius) for more than 17 minutes. While that certainly was impressive, it’s not as big of a challenge as eliminating gravity on Earth for long periods of time. That feat was accomplished by a team led by Li Ruilin from the China University of Mining and Technology in a lab in Xuzhou, in Jiangsu province that will soon be fully operational.
“(The simulator can make gravity “disappear” and “last as long as you want.”
The South China Morning Post reports that the mini Moon has an artificial lunar landscape made of rocks and dust of the same weight and density as the real thing. The mini Moon is housed in a room inside a vacuum chamber with two powerful magnets on opposite sides. The magnets generate a field inside the chamber that 'lifts' the room and the mini Moon to whatever gravity level is needed – Earth gravity, lunar gravity (one-sixth Earth gravity), no gravity or anything in-between. The mini Moon is in the lunar gravitational state for as long as needed – Li says creep-testing (a kind of stress test to measure how much strain or load an object can handle under pressure) can take several days.
OK, when can we non-astronauts go for a walk on the mini Moon?
Ah, there’s just one catch. The mini Moon measures just 60 cm (2 feet) in diameter – not nearly big enough for your feet ... maybe the feet of tardigrade (which would probably make a better astronaut than you). (A functional drawing can be seen here.) But it’s a start and the South China Morning says the benefits even at such a small size are big.
“According to Li, the moon simulator could also be used to test whether new technology such as 3D printing could be used to build structures on the lunar surface. It could help assess whether a permanent human settlement could be built there, including issues like how well the surface traps heat. Some experiments conducted in the simulated environment can also give us some important clues, such as where to look for water trapped under the surface.”
Yes, China’s Chang’e-5 lunar lander just found water on the surface of the Moon – the first time scientists have found on-site evidence of water on the lunar surface. However, the mini Moon will make it easier the second time.
If you’re worried that this puts China ahead in the race to build a base on the Moon … Li says the lunar gravity simulator will be open to researchers from around the world.
It would be nice to take up a collection to send those four living lunar astronauts there to witness lunar gravity one more time.