With the advancement of space exploration, we have recently seen a lot of time and money being invested in technologies that can make effective use of space resources. At the forefront of these efforts, finding the best way to produce oxygen on the moon has always been a priority. In October of this year, NASA and the Australian Space Agency signed an agreement to send a lunar rover to the moon with the aim of collecting the moon, in line with the return to the lunar program “Artemis”. The rocks eventually learn to deliver oxygen to the moon, which they can breathe.
View of the Moon inside the Kravis crater
Although the Moon has an atmosphere, it is very thin, consisting mainly of hydrogen, neon, and argon. It is not a gaseous mixture that relies on oxygen to survive in humans and other mammals.
In other words, the moon has a lot of oxygen, but it’s not gas. Instead, this oxygen is trapped in a layer of rock and fine dust that covers the surface of the moon. If we could extract oxygen from it, would it be enough to keep humans living on the moon?
We can find oxygen in the underground minerals around us, and most of the moon is made up of rocks found on Earth. Silicon, aluminum, iron-magnesium oxide, and other minerals helped shape the lunar landscape. These minerals contain oxygen, but they do not exist in the form that humans can breathe directly.
On the Moon, these minerals exist in various forms, including hard rocks, dust, gravel, and rocks covering the lunar surface. This substance is the result of meteorites falling on the lunar surface for thousands of years.
Some people call the lunar surface “lunar soil”, but many soil scientists disagree. They believe that soil is a magical substance found only on earth. It is formed by the proliferation of many organisms over millions of years in the soil’s core material (a climatic layer derived from hard rocks).
The result is the formation of a mineral matrix not found in real rock. Earth’s soil has significant physical, chemical and biological properties. At the same time, the material on the lunar surface is basically a real weather layer.
The lunar surface contains about 45% oxygen, but oxygen is strongly integrated with the minerals mentioned above. To break these strong ties, we need to invest in energy.
The astronaut deploys equipment on the lunar surface
If you understand electrolysis, you will be familiar with this process. On Earth, this process is commonly used in construction, such as the production of aluminum. An electric current flows through the electrodes through the liquid aluminum oxide (commonly called aluminum oxide), separating the aluminum from the oxygen.
In this case, oxygen is seen as a by-product. On the Moon, oxygen will be the main product, and extracted aluminum (or other metals) will be a useful by-product. This is a very simple process, but there is a problem: it is very energetic. To sustain sustainable development, solar or other lunar energy sources must be supported.
Many industrial instruments are needed to extract oxygen from the lunar surface. We first need to liquefy solid metal oxides by heating or combining heating with solvents or electrolytes. We have such technology on Earth, but transferring such devices to the moon and generating the energy to run it is a big challenge.
Earlier this year, Belgium-based startup Space Application Services announced plans to build three experimental reactors to improve the process of producing oxygen through electrolysis. They hope to send the technology to the moon by 2025 as part of the European Space Agency’s in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) mission.
So, when we successfully complete the above preparations, how much oxygen can the moon actually provide? It turns out that the number is too large. If we ignore the oxygen trapped in the deep rock of the moon and consider only the layer of weather that is easily accessible to the surface, we can get into a rough shape.
On average, every cubic meter of the Moon’s surface contains about 1.4 tons of minerals, including about 630 kilograms of oxygen. NASA says humans need to breathe 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive. Therefore, 630 kg of oxygen can sustain a person’s life for about two years.
Assume that the average depth of the lunar layer is about 10 meters, from which all the oxygen can be extracted, which means that the lunar surface will provide enough oxygen to feed 8 billion people on Earth for about 100,000 years. It all depends on how efficiently we extract and use oxygen. In any case, this number is amazing!
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