As countries, through their space programmes, actively seek the answers to possible life outside this planet, a new study claims that the Moon has enough oxygen to support all of the existing eight billion inhabitants of Earth for nearly 100,000 years. The Moon’s top layer of rocks, known as regolith, has abundant oxygen, and can be extracted to support human life. This oxygen on the Moon’s surface, however, is not in gaseous form yet, but researchers are exploring ways to extract usable oxygen from the regolith.
Usable oxygen can be extracted from the Moon’s top layer, which can then eventually be used to support human life, said a report in Australian non-profit website The Conversation. According to a meteorite information report on the website of Washington University in St. Louis, the top surface layer of the Moon is made up of 41-45 percent oxygen, but is trapped inside the regolith consisting of minerals such as silica, aluminium, iron and magnesium oxides.
The report contends that usable oxygen can be extracted from these minerals using the electrolysis process. On Earth, electrolysis is used to separate aluminium from oxygen. Oxygen is a byproduct in this case, but on the Moon, oxygen would be the main product, and aluminium or any other metal extracted would be a potentially useful byproduct.
While the process seems easy, extracting oxygen from the Moon’s surface is a daunting task. To make it sustainable and viable, the electrolysis process would require energy, either supported by solar or other sources available on the Moon. Deploying heavy industry equipment on the Moon would be another challenge.
However, many people are already working in this direction. A Belgium-based startup Space Applications Services, earlier this year, announced that it was building three experimental reactors which would upgrade the process of making oxygen via electrolysis, and even plan to launch this technology for the Moon by 2025 for the European Space Agency’s in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) mission.
If scientists do come up with a sustainable method of extracting usable oxygen from the Moon’s surface, the report in The Conversation claimed that the top 10 metres of the lunar surface would provide enough oxygen for all of the Earth’s residents.
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