Science of Golf and Outgassing

Republished from APRIL 14, 2018


It's difficult to talk about the science involved in a story without actually discussing some of the aspects of the story. So as a forewarning, I recommend that you read the story first and come back to this article. I'll continue with the article in the next paragraph. The story Golf and Outgassing is available here.

Golf and Outgassing is a story regarding the return to the moon sometime in the next decade of an alternate history.   It revolves around the landing site Fra Mauro, the location of the 1971 landing of Apollo 14 i ii. The title itself is suggestive of the event ending the two-day stay of Apollo 14 - Alan Shepard's famous lunar golf shots iii. The outgassing piece is from part of the preliminary science results for the mission.

Fra Mauro highlands is a region on the eastern edge of the Ocean of Storms, near the center of the disk of the full moon. It was selected because of the relatively recent (and deep) impact crater called Cone Crater. Cone Crater seemed to be deep enough that it might have punched through the underlying surface geology and blasted pieces of the bedrock during the impact. One of the science goals of Apollo 14 was to travel to the rim of Cone Crater and sample the rocks from within. The bulk of the second EVA involved Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell working their way up the Cone Crater slope iv v

The rest of the science background for the Golf and Outgassing story is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experimental Package ALSEP vi. One of the ALSEP experiments detected water vapor. This occurred weeks later after Sheppard and Mitchel had departed the moon and returned to the earth. An experiment called the Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment vii (SIDE) detected the water signature viii. It's likely that the result was considered void because of no equivalent event at another Apollo landing site. Also, the dry moon paradigm became standard. It remained in effect until the Clementine mission suggested otherwise ix.

The crawler, or pressurized rover, is based on a vehicle that has been considered by NASA as part of the canceled Constellation program. It had been developed as part of the desert rats exercises. The crawler's capabilities enables lunar exploration in a shirt sleeve environment, leaving EVA's to handle special circumstances that could not be handled by robotics x

The existence of a skylight cave structure under Cone Crater is made up for purposes of the story. There are skylight caves on the moon, discovered by the Selene (a Japanese Lunar Mission) xi They are exposures of sub-surface lava tubes. Like polar craters, a lava tube could act as a cold trap, allowing the volatile substances such as water to accumulate inside of the caves. The explanation that is inferred in "Golf and Outgassing" is that the water detected by the SIDE was from a cave concealed under Cone Crater that released vapor after the Apollo 14 mission. If such a cave existed, discussion about return to the moon would likely include Fra Mauro.