The surface of the Moon contains enough oxygen to supply 8 billion people on Earth for 100,000 years, according to scientists.
In October, the Australian Space Agency and NASA signed an agreement to send an Australian-made rover to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis Moon exploration program, with the goal of collecting rocks the ability to generate oxygen on the Moon.
Although the Moon has an atmosphere, it is very thin and made up mostly of hydrogen, neon, and argon. It’s not a gaseous compound that can sustain oxygen-dependent mammals like humans.
However, scientists say that there is actually a lot of oxygen on the Moon, just not in the gaseous form. Instead, it is trapped inside the regolith – the layer of rock and fine dust that covers the Moon’s surface. If we can extract oxygen from regolith, it could potentially support human life on the Moon.Oxygen can be found in many minerals around us on Earth. While the Moon is mainly made of the same rocks as on Earth.
Minerals such as silica, aluminum, iron oxide and magnesium oxide make up the majority of the Moon. All of these minerals contain oxygen, but not in a gaseous form that the human lungs can breathe.
On the Moon, these minerals exist in a number of different forms including hard rock, dust, gravel, and surface rock. This material is the result of impacts from countless meteorites hitting the surface of the Moon over many millennia.
Some call the moon’s surface layer “earth,” but some scientists doubt this. The earth as we know it is quite magical, and it is only found on Earth. It was created by the activity of many millions of years by a variety of organisms on the “mother material of the earth” – regolith, which is derived from hard rock.
The result was a matrix of minerals that were not present in the original rock. Earth’s soil has remarkable physical, chemical, and biological characteristics. While the material on the Moon’s surface is basically in its pristine form.The Moon’s Regolith is made up of about 45% oxygen. But that oxygen is tightly bound to the minerals mentioned above. Breaking those strong bonds takes a lot of effort.
And one method that should be used is electrolysis. As an example of the electrolysis process used in aluminum production, an electric current is passed through a liquid form of aluminum oxide (commonly known as alumin) through electrodes, to separate the aluminum from the aluminum. oxygen.
In this case, oxygen is produced as a byproduct. In the same process on the Moon, oxygen will be the main product and aluminum (or other metal) extracted will be a by-product.It’s a fairly simple process, but there is one difficulty: it takes a lot of energy. To be sustainable, this process needs to be supported by solar energy or other energy sources available on the Moon.
Extracting oxygen from the regolith will also require industrial equipment, but moving the necessary equipment to the Moon – and generating enough energy to operate it – will be a major challenge.
In early 2021, Belgium-based Space Application Services startup announced that it was building three experimental reactors to improve oxygen generation by electrolysis. They are expected to send the technology to the Moon by 2025, part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) In-situ Resource Use (ISRU) mission.If the mission is successful, and humans can indeed extract oxygen on the Moon, the question is how much oxygen can the Moon provide?
If we ignore the amount of oxygen present in the deeper hard rock material of the Moon, and consider only the easily accessible regolith on the surface, we can easily make an estimate.
Each cubic meter of the Moon contains an average of 1.4 tons of minerals, including about 630kg of oxygen. NASA says humans need to breathe about 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive. So, 630kg of oxygen will help a person live for about 2 years or more.
Let’s say the average depth of the regolith on the Moon is about 10m and we can extract all the oxygen from there. That means the top 10 meters of the Moon’s surface will provide enough oxygen to support all of the 8 billion people on Earth for the next 100,000 years. This is an impressive number.
This also depends on how efficiently we manage to extract and use oxygen on the Moon.