NASA's Artemis program aims to increase human presence on the moon. The 1969 milestone was not the only landmark in space exploration. Instead, the return to manned missions to our natural satellite will herald a new era for space exploration. This time, it is with the intent of creating the conditions that allow humans to continue beyond the International Space Station.
Utilizing on-site resources (ISRU) is one of the key factors to achieve this. This method proposes to use all resources in the area to live, work, and complete missions that suggest human permanence beyond Earth orbit.
Is it possible to get oxygen from the Moon?
The moon's oxygen is much more concentrated than the oxygen we breathe. It is contained in a thin layer of argon and hydrogen, which is unlike the oxygen we breathe. Instead, the gas is trapped within the lunar regolith which is the thinnest layer of dust and stone that covers the atmosphere.
Extracting oxygen from the moon is a technologically challenging task. This is even more true when the operation must be done from 384,000 kilometers away from the biosphere.
John Grant, Professor Earth Sciences at Australia's Southern Cross University, stated in an article for The Conversation that about 45% of minerals making up the lunar regolith are oxygen-rich.
Grant estimates that each cubic meter holds approximately 1.4 tons of oxygen. If you consider only the material that is accessible below the lunar surface, and if we take into account the fact that humans need 800g of oxygen per day to live, then ten meters of lunar oxygen would suffice to extract enough oxygen to sustain the lives of all 8 billion people who currently inhabit Earth.
''A large industrial team would be required to extract oxygen from the lunar regolith. First, we would need to make solid metal oxide liquid by heating it or mixing it with solvents and electrolytes. Grant says that while we have the technology to do it on Earth, moving the device to the Moon and generating enough power will be a challenge.''
The first test to determine lunar oxygen
NASA and the Australian Space Agency signed an agreement in October 2021 to test a rover that could collect and transport lunar regolith. This rover would be part of a commercial lunar landing vehicle. This vehicle will be used in Artemis's future missions.
NASA's ISRU demonstration, which was installed on the lander will attempt to extract oxygen from lunar regolith. The soil is rich in chemical compounds containing elements like iron and silicon that contain oxygen. NASA stated in a statement that the demonstration of small-scale technology will be useful in designing larger, more powerful units in the future.Updated Date: 28 November 2021, 14:48