Rocket Science: Argonne's Questionable Experiment

I will admit that before this summer I knew little about Argonne.  For those of you who are like me, I will give a little background.  Argonne Laboratory was a research facility run as an extension of the University of Chicago to research the applications of nuclear energy.  Their files discuss ideas for numerous kinds of reactors, as well as more out of the box theories. 

Among them was one that called to mind the plot from a science fiction movie.  Perhaps this is why they say many of the biggest science fiction fans are historians!

While some of the theories were ones that were adopted such as the irradiation of food to prolong its shelf life and kill off bacteria or insects that might be hiding in it.  But this one is a little less mundane, just before President John F. Kennedy announced the national goal of putting a man on the moon, Argonne began theoretical plans for a nuclear power plant which would power a permanent space laboratory.

A lunar power plant.

By working together with astronomers and using visual observations and leading theories about the chemical make up of moon dust, the physicists at Argonne tried to ensure that the plant would be self-sufficient.  This means that it would have to be made entirely of metals which were present, again, in theory, on the moon and so could be mined and processed locally from the lab.

If this sounds familiar, it is probably because it has popped up in the news recently with both Japan and China announcing plans to begin to use the moon as a resource. 


This month an article I wrote for the National Archives was published in their newsletter.  For more information and the complete article, you can check out their website here.

For more information about Japan's announcement check out this article.

For more information about China's announcement check out this article.

For more information about Argonne's Lunar Plant, you can read the report about their research here.