NASA Scientists Extract Oxygen from Lunar Soil in Vacuum Environment:
NASA scientists have successfully extracted oxygen from simulated lunar soil in a vacuum environment, which could pave the way for future human colonies on the Moon. The ability to extract oxygen from lunar soil is crucial for providing breathable air for astronauts and can also be used as propellant for transportation and space exploration.
The Dirty Thermal Vacuum Chamber:
To simulate the conditions on the Moon, NASA scientists used a special spherical chamber called the Dirty Thermal Vacuum Chamber. This chamber has a 15-foot diameter and is designed to allow unclean samples to be tested inside. The vacuum environment inside the chamber is similar to the conditions on the Moon, where there is no atmosphere and the temperature can range from -173°C to 127°C.
The Carbothermal Reactor:
Inside the Dirty Thermal Vacuum Chamber, the scientists used a carbothermal reactor to extract the oxygen from the lunar soil simulant. The carbothermal reactor is a device that uses heat to break down materials into their constituent parts. In this case, the reactor was used to heat the lunar soil simulant to a temperature of 1,000°C, which caused it to melt.
To simulate the heat from a solar energy concentrator, the scientists used a high-powered laser to melt the lunar soil simulant. The laser was able to create a temperature of 1,000°C, which is similar to the temperature on the Moon’s surface when exposed to direct sunlight. This process is similar to the one used on Earth to create items like solar panels and steel.
Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo):
After the lunar soil simulant was heated in the carbothermal reactor, the team used a device called Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo) to detect carbon monoxide. The MSolo is an instrument that can measure the composition of gases in a sample. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of the carbothermal reaction and its detection indicated that the process was successful in extracting oxygen from the lunar soil simulant.
Future Missions to the Moon:
NASA plans to send similar devices to the Moon’s South Pole on two upcoming exploration missions – the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment-1 in 2023 and NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) in November 2024. These missions will focus on the search for water and other resources on the Moon’s surface, which could be used to support future human colonies.