Oxygen From Moon Dust... May 29, 2006 22:17:25 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on May 29, 2006 22:17:25 GMT -6
One small breath for man
Scientists have paved the way for the first permanently manned base on the Moon by developing a way to 'squeeze' oxygen out of lunar soil.
Nasa experts say the technique will allow astronauts of the future to create their own supplies of the gas instead of transporting it all from Earth.
The space agency plans to take its extraction system to the Moon in 2011 as part of its Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, which will test a range of equipment designed to support human life. If the technique is successful, it could lead to a permanent station like Moon-base Alpha from the popular Seventies series Space: 1999.
To extract oxygen from lunar soil, scientists used a lens-like structure to focus sunlight on to it, heating it to 2,500C.
In Nasa's latest tests, a 12ft-wide dish was used to concentrate the sun's rays on to 100g of a substance similar to Moon soil. After a few hours, one fifth of the substance had turned into oxygen.
The soil is kept in a vacuum during the process to help suck out the oxygen.
Lunar soil brought back to Earth is in short supply and highly prized, so Nasa researchers have been using matter with the same composition for its tests.
The soil contains about 45 per cent oxygen by weight, but it is mostly 'trapped' in the form of silcon dioxide.
Nasa plans to repeat the same processs on the Moon to produce oxygen, which could support life and be used to help fuel rockets setting out on deep-space missions.
At the moment, all oxygen supplies would have to be brought from Earth, which is so expensive and energy-inefficient that it effectively rules out a permanent Moon base.