How much oxygen is there really on the moon?
In October theAustralian Space Agency and NASA signed an agreement to send an Australian-made rover to the moon as part of the program Artemiswith the aim of collecting moon rocks that they might eventually provide breathable oxygen to the Moon. The reason is that there is indeed a lot of oxygen on the Moon, but not in gaseous form: it is trapped inside the regolith, the layer of rock and fine dust that covers the Moon’s surface. Could enough oxygen be extracted to sustain human life on the moon?
Would oxygen on the moon be enough for everyone?
Although the Moon has an atmosphere, it is very subtle and composed mainly of hydrogen, neon and argon. It’s not the kind of gas mixture that could sustain oxygen-dependent mammals like humans. Having said that, however, there is a lot of oxygen on the moononly it is not in a gaseous state.
Oxygen can be found in many of the minerals in the soil around us, and the Moon is mostly made up of the same rocks that can be found on Earth (albeit with slightly more material from meteors). Minerals such as silica, aluminum and iron and magnesium oxides dominate the lunar landscape. All of these minerals contain oxygen, but not in a form accessible to our lungs. On the Moon, in fact, these minerals exist in a few different forms including hard rock, dust, gravel and stones that cover the surface.
There Lunar regolith is made up of approximately 45% oxygen. But that oxygen is closely related to the minerals we told you about earlier and breaking those strong bonds is possible, but there is a problem. It’s a pretty simple process, but it takes a lot of energy. To be sustainable, it would need to be supported by solar energy or other energy sources available on the Moon.
We could sustain ourselves for 100,000 years
As explained on TheConversation, extracting oxygen from regolith would also require considerable industrial equipment. We should first convert the solid metal oxide into liquid form, by applying heat or heat combined with solvents or electrolytes. There is this technology on Earth, but moving this to the Moon will be a great challenge.
This mission, however, is driven by the fact that on the Moon there is, as anticipated, really a lot of oxygen. Succeeding in the process, considering only the regolith that is easily accessible on the surface, large quantities could be extracted.
Each cubic meter of lunar regolith contains 1.4 tons of minerals, of which 630 kilograms of oxygen. According to NASA, humans need to breathe about 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive – 630 kilograms would be enough for one person for about two years.
Assuming that the mean depth of the regolith on the Moon is about ten meters and taking it all out, there would be enough oxygen to supporting all eight billion people on Earth for approximately 100,000 years. These are incredible figures.