Despite the Man with the Golden Gun having a powerful weapon, this 1974 Bond outing is generally considered one of the most flaccid of the franchise.
The story limps from London to Thailand, with our hero on the tail of three-nippled assassin Scaramanga and the Solex Agitator – a device that supposedly converts sunlight into unlimited energy.
Towards the end of the movie, we inevitably end up at Scaramanga’s secret lair, where he outlines his plan for world domination to Bond while demonstrating a giant mirror, which focuses the Sun’s rays into a deadly beam.
Although the plot is implausible, for once in Roger Moore’s Bond movies, the science is not so far fetched. In fact engineers at the German space agency, DLR, in Cologne are working on similar technology.
Rather than being concealed in a rock within a hidden cove, however, the giant mirror on the DLR campus is positioned behind a low fence at the end of the car park.
This light is focussed into a solar furnace, a tray-sized test stand where temperatures can reach 2,500C (4,532F)
This reflective panel bounces light onto the Bond-sounding Solar Concentrator. Electric shutters roll back to reveal this six-metre-high (20ft) array of 159 hexagonal polished mirrors which – as the name suggests – concentrate the sunlight into a tight beam.
This light is focussed into a solar furnace, a tray-sized test stand where temperatures can reach 2,500C (4,532F). Shielded behind a screen and surrounded by warning signs, this is more than capable of melting most metals – including Iron, steel and titanium. Perfect for all your world domination schemes, and eco-friendly into the bargain.
But the scientists at DLR have even more ambitious plans than any Earthly endeavour: they are using the solar furnace to figure out how to construct a Moon village, a concept for a lunar settlement outlined last year by the new head of the European Space Agency, Jan Woerner.
A permanent base on the Moon is not going to come cheap. The Apollo missions to send astronauts to the Moon in the late 60s and early 70s cost some $200bn (£139bn) in today’s money, and that was simply to put 12 men on the surface. Imagine the additional expense of sending up habitation modules or the materials to build them.
“One of the big challenges is to build a Moon base without having to spend too much money shipping things up there,” says DLR material physicist Matthias Sperl.
For many decades, artists, architects and engineers have conceived elaborate lunar base designs of domed or underground structures built from materials readily available on the Moon. Until now, however, no one has tackled the fundamental physics to see if they are possible.
You have plenty of Moon dust and plenty of sunlight and we’re trying to make the best use of that as possible – Matthias Sperl, DLR
“We start from scratch to imagine what would have happened if we were not born on Earth,” says Sperl, “but if we learned to build a home on the Moon.”
Sperl is using the solar furnace to study the properties of Moon dust to see if it can be melted or baked into bricks. “You have plenty of Moon dust and plenty of sunlight and we’re trying to make the best use of that as possible.”
In his office Sperl shows me test tubes full of fine grey powder, ground so that it is identical to real Moon dust. He suggests I avoid touching it.
“It’s nasty stuff – imagine a mixture of beach sand with volcanic ash,” says Sperl. “It’s very rough edged and if you look at the footage of Apollo astronauts you can see it gets everywhere, so you want to avoid working with it.”
‘A lot of responsibility’
This grey dust is not an immediately promising construction material for a robust and radiation-proof airtight structure to protect a lunar community.
“It makes me feel a lot of responsibility,” admits Sperl. “We’d better make sure that what we send our astronaut colleagues into is rock solid so they can survive in that harsh environment.”
Assuming Sperl’s team can successfully transform the imitation lunar dust into a solid material on Earth, the next stage will be to work out whether the process is achievable on the Moon.
One option they are considering is to employ a solar furnace on the lunar surface, where astronauts or robots could bake bricks and then work as bricklayers to stick them together. They would perhaps use blocks with interlocking sections like Lego.
You could have totally crazy new structures that are simply impossible to build on Earth – Matthias Sperl
“Once we know the physical parameters, we can decide whether it’s better to build using a big stack of Lego,” says Sperl, “or whether we should build everything together without having any boundaries between the building elements.”
This might involve 3-D printing a lunar base from Moon dust, an idea that Nasa is investigating for Mars. The concept avoids the problem of shipping up gallons of glue to bond bricks together but would involve designing and landing a bespoke 3-D Moon-base printer.
The engineers also need to take into account the reduced gravity on the Moon – any brick or printed structure will not need to be as strong as on Earth, liberating the normal constraints that Earth-bound engineering had to contend with.
“We are very eager to learn how civil engineering on the Moon will turn out,” says Sperl. “You could have totally crazy new structures that are simply impossible to build on Earth.”
It may be decades before any of this becomes a reality. There is, however, excitement within Esa that the fundamental challenges of turning Moon dust into a Moon village are being investigated.
“It could actually happen,” Sperl says, “and I’m very much looking forward to that.”
We can only hope that when the lunar settlement does get built, they name it after that other Roger Moore Bond classic, Moonraker.
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