The fictional ideal of the "man in the moon" has been striking scientists for hundreds of years. We managed to get there with great effort, and now we need to figure out the right way to produce oxygen on the moon.
The research and investments made to allow man to "breathe" in space are more and more. Lately, several steps forward have been made on one issue in particular, the possibility of produce oxygen on the moon.
A very important agreement between the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) andAustralian Space Agency, allowed a specific rover to be sent directly to the moon.
The purpose of the rover, inserted in the Artemis program in October, is to collect lunar rocks and analyze their general composition. According to the first results, oxygen is actually found on the moon, just not in a gaseous form.
It is trapped inside the regolith, the layer of rock and fine dust that covers the surface of the moon. Finding a way to extract oxygen from this specific rock could allow humans to live on the moon and start an absolutely revolutionary experience.
Where is oxygen hiding on the moon?
A substantial part of the lunar surface is composed of rocks of different types, usually very similar to those encountered on earth. Inside, large amounts of minerals such as aluminum, magnesium, silica and iron oxides are hidden.
Each of these minerals, in turn, contains a percentage of oxygen, even if it is not directly gaseous.
The Moon is indeed rich in these minerals, which are found in the form of dust, small stones and large stones that cover the general surface.
Meteorites that have crashed on the moon over the years have led to a consistent accumulation of rocks and minerals, with a consequent supply of oxygen.
Generally speaking, most of the Moon's surface layer consists of regolith in its original form, a specific type of rock that includes large quantities of minerals and oxygen.
Unlike Earth's soil, which is significantly more complex than the lunar one, it is easier to locate rocks and mineral stores on the Moon. All of this is certainly due to the fall of the meteorites, but it has something to do with the general conformation of the surface.
How the regolith is composed
To allow you to understand how much oxygen is hidden inside the regolith rocks, we leave you a small percentage.
The lunar regolith it is made up of approximately 45% oxygen.
However, the oxygen present is closely linked to the minerals that make up the rock, and is very difficult to extract. To do this, it is necessary to use large amounts of energy, and resort to complex processes such aselectrolysis.
Electrolysis is used to "detach" oxygen from the other elements present within a mineral. Specifically, a large amount of electrical current is used to make the electrodes separate the individual elements.
Basically, the process is quite simple to do, but it requires a considerable amount of energy. Being able to find it on the Moon is no joke, especially considering the absence of innovative industrial equipment.
The way more world to obtain it would be to use the power of solar energy, but we do not know if it would be strong enough.
Being able to transfer to the Moon the equipment necessary for extraction and, above all, the energy required to do so, will be extremely difficult.
Earlier this year, the Belgian startup Space Application Services announced that it was building three experimental reactors to improve the process of producing oxygen by electrolysis.
Roughly speaking, the association aims to send its technology to the moon by 2025, placing itself on the European Space Agency's mission resource list.
How much oxygen would the moon provide?
Once you understand the abundance of regolith, it is entirely questionable how much oxygen the Moon could actually provide.
We have seen that oxygen can be extracted both from the deeper surface of the Moon and from the easily accessible surface layer of regolith.
Let's start by considering only the regolith, so as to obtain a first reliable estimate.
Each cubic meter of lunar regolith contains on average 1,4 tons of minerals, including approximately 630 kilograms of oxygen. NASA says humans need to breathe around 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive. So 630 kilograms of oxygen would keep a person alive for about two years (or a little more).
By doing some calculations, we easily come to the conclusion that only the first ten meters of the lunar surface would provide enough oxygen to support all eight billion people on Earth for about 100.000 years.
A truly incredible number, which could revolutionize the way we approach the Moon and its resources.
Maybe in a hundred years man can really live on the Moon, or he could fully exploit the oxygen of his rocks and continue to live on Earth. We will find out only over time, continuing to observe the incredible results of scientific research.