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FLOAT Levitating Train On The Moon ala Clarke

FLOAT (Flexible Levitation on a Track) is a NASA project, one of its Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), the aim of which is to develop "science fiction-like" projects for future space exploration.

In this case, it's not just "science fiction-like" - it's pretty much Arthur C. Clarke's idea.


(Artist's concept of lunar rail network. (Image credit: Ethan Schaler))

"We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon," project leader Ethan Schaler, a robotics engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wrote in a NASA blog post. "A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030s."

According to NASA's initial design, FLOAT will consist of magnetic robots levitating over a three-layer film track to reduce abrasion from dust on the lunar surface.

Seventy years ago, Arthur C. Clarke described a "lunar monorail" in his excellent 1955 novel Earthlight:

Ahead of the speeding car, the single rail - supported by pillars uncomfortably far apart - arrowed into the east...

The low-slung monorail car, straddling its single track, bored through the shadows on a slowly rising course. In the darkness around them, dimly seen crags and cliffs rushed forward with explosive swiftness, then vanished astern...

If it had been day, Sadler could have seen the prodigies of engineering that had flung this track across the foothills of the Apennines.

(Read more about the lunar monorail from Clarke's Earthlight)

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