Moon’s top layer has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people on Earth – Know Key details

The Moon’s top layer of rocks known as Regolith has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people of Earth for nearly 100,000 years. How can we extract oxygen from Moon’s Regolith? 

Created On: Nov 22, 2021 12:34 IST
Moon’s Regolith has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people on Earth; Image: NASA
Moon’s Regolith has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people on Earth; Image: NASA

The Moon’s top layer of rocks known as Regolith has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people of Earth for nearly 100,000 years, as per a meteorite information report of Washington University in St. Louis. The report stated that usable oxygen can be extracted from the Regolith which can eventually be used to support human life. If scientists discover a sustainable method of extracting usable oxygen from the surface of the Moon, the report claims that the top 10 meters of the lunar surface Regolith would provide enough oxygen for all 8 billion people of Earth.

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Moon’s top layer has enough oxygen for 8 billion people

The Moon has an atmosphere that is very thin and composed of mostly hydrogen, argon, and neon. Minerals such as iron, aluminum, silica, and magnesium oxides make up the landscape of the Moon. All these minerals contain oxygen but not in the gaseous form that our lungs can process. The surface of the Moon does not provide oxygen in gaseous form that can sustain human life but it is trapped inside the top layer of the Moon called Regolith which is the layer of rock and fine dust.

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How can we extract oxygen from Moon’s Regolith?

The Regolith is made up of approximately 45 per cent oxygen. In order to extract this oxygen, the process of electrolysis is required. The electrolysis process on Earth is used in the manufacturing sector to produce aluminum. During the process, an electric current is passed through a liquid form of aluminum oxide through electrodes to separate the aluminum from the oxygen.

On Earth, the electrolysis process generates oxygen as a byproduct. However, the same electrolysis process will generate oxygen as the main product when conducted on Moon and other metal or aluminum will be potentially useful byproducts.

The process of extracting oxygen from Moon’s Regolith will also require substantial industrial equipment. One need to first convert solid metal oxide into liquid form by applying heat or heat combined with solvents or electrolytes. This technology is available on Earth but conducting this technology on Moon requires massive resources.

Earlier in 2021, a Belgium-based startup Space Applications Services had announced that they are in the process of building three experimental reactors which will improvise the electrolysis process to generate oxygen. They are expecting to send the technology to Moon by 2025 as part of the in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) mission of the European Space Agency.

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How much oxygen will be available from Moon’s Regolith?

The Moon’s top layer of rocks known as Regolith has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people of Earth for nearly 100,000 years, as per a meteorite information report of Washington University in St. Louis.

Each cubic meter of lunar Regolith contains 1.4 tonnes of mineral on average which includes about 630 kg of oxygen. As per NASA, humans require 800 grams of oxygen per day to survive. The 630 kg of oxygen can help sustain a human lie for about 2 years or more.

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