Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

And now it’s time for another installment of: Ask A Stupid Question!

Long-time readers of this blog – and they are legion, I assure you – know I have a great big thang for steam locomotives. The way I gush over them makes people feel as though they shouldn’t be watching, really. I’ve learned over the years not to be quite so sharing when it comes to my feelings about choo-choos, as well as moon rockets. BECAUSE HOOGAH HOOGAH I SURE DO LOVES ME SOME MOON ROCKETS! HOMINAHOMINAHOMINA.

Sorry. I’ve got myself under control now, promise.

Well, today I happened to glance up into the sky as I was taking a walk around the park on my lunch hour, happened to catch sight of the moon and wondered: Would you be able to operate a steam locomotive on the moon? Hmmmm.

Short answer: No. A steam locomotive is as low-tech as machinery gets. First of all, they’re made of tons and tons of solid steel, filled with tons of coal and even more tons of water. A road-ready steam locomotive weighs more than God, so you wouldn’t be able to even get one to the moon. There isn’t a rocket big enough to lift one an inch off the ground, much less all the way to lunar orbit, and if there was you wouldn’t be able to land one on the moon without smashing it to pieces.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you could get one to the moon, and it was somehow full of water and the tender was loaded with coal – how would you light a fire in the firebox? Because that’s how you get one going down here on Mother Earth. You build up a little pile of tinder, just like when you’re at camp, throw a match on it, build it up with some heavier wood, pile up some coal around it, and keep on doing that for, oh, about twenty-four hours until you’ve got a fire roaring hot enough to bring the thousand bozillion gallons of water in the boiler to a roiling head. Couldn’t on the moon, though, unless you rigged it up with its own oxygen bottles, but that’s not how a steam loco works, and my stupid question was about a steam locomotive. You could probably make one work if you substituted an atomic reactor for the fire but then it wouldn’t be the same thing, would it? No. No, it wouldn’t.

Now that I think about it (still in the context of a stupid question), the temperature on the surface of the moon during the day is something like two-hundred fifty degrees, so maybe you wouldn’t have any trouble boiling the water, even without a fire. Just set it out in the sunlight and stand back. I’ll bet you the complete lack of atmospheric pressure would make the water want to boil even while it was still pretty cold. After the sun went down you’d be in a world of hurt, though. The temperature on the moon drops to around a hundred fifty degrees below zero, so all the water in the boiler would solidify and stay that way for fourteen days. For two weeks, a rockin’ and rollin’ locomotive, and then for two weeks a pretty huge door stop.

Or can it rock and roll? I honestly don’t know. If it can make steam, I’d think maybe it would go. Probably not far. The water would likely all boil off in a big hurry and there’s really no way to fill it up again, not the way it’s supposed to get done. But I think it could work. It. Could. Work.

Celestial Steam Locomotive | 7:02 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, play, space geekery, story time
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One Comment

  1. 1 Gary√ój said at 10:26 am on April 13th, 2011:

    Silly silly man, there will be only atomic energized monorail trains on the moon. Sheesh, where you come up with these abstruse notions, I will never know.