NASA eClips: Using Lunar Soil to Make Oxygen
Learn how NASA plans to use lunar resources to provide astronauts with water and oxygen . Travel to Hawaii to see tests using a special reactor and a process called oxygen reduction to release oxygen form the volcanic soil.
An early, persistent problem noted by Apollo astronauts on the Moon was dust. It got everywhere, including into their lungs. Oddly enough, that may be where future Moon explorers get their next breath of air: The moon's dusty layer of soil is nearly half oxygen.
The trick is extracting it. All you have to do is vaporize the lunar dust and soil, called regolith. The most common is silicon dioxide (SiO2), Also plentiful are oxides of calcium (CaO), iron (FeO) and magnesium (MgO). Add up all the O's: 43% of the mass of lunar soil is oxygen.
NASA-supported scientists are working on a technique that heats lunar soils until they release oxygen. A number of factors make pyrolysis more attractive than other techniques. It requires no raw materials to be brought from Earth, and you don't have to prospect for a particular mineral. Simply scoop up what's on the ground and apply the heat.
In a number to tests that have been conducted so far, as much as 20 percent of simulated lunar soil was converted to free oxygen. What is leftover is slag, which is a low-oxygen, highly metallic, often glassy material.
Related Mathematics Problems
These problems provide a mathematical introduction to some of the issues related to lunar soil composition.
Problem 181: Extracting Oxygen from Moon Rocks Students use a chemical equation to estimate how much oxygen can be liberated from a sample of lunar soil. [Grade: 9-11| Topics: ratios; scientific notation; unit conversions] [Download PDF]
Problem 297: Atoms - How Sweet They Are! A simple counting activity is based on atoms in a sugar molecule. Students calculate ratios and percentages of various atomic types in the molecule. [Grade: 4-8 | Topics: Counting; Ratios; percentage] [Download PDF]