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- Active Mercury(07/09)
- Hubble Status Report: Directly Observes a Planet Orbiting Another Star(01/09)
- A Non-trivial Answer to a Trivial Astronomical Question-The Origin Of Absolute Magnitude(07/08)
- Assault by a Black Hole(04/08)
- New Lakes Discovered on Titan(01/08)
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- Is Pluto a Planet?(01/07)
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- Time Travel: From a Scientific Approach(07/04)
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- Black Hole: From Fantasy To Reality (II)(01/04)
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- From The Oldest Light In The Universe To The Fate Of The Universe(7/03)
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- The Solar Maximum in 2000(1/00)
- Hubble Constant(10/99)
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- How Strong Stellar Magnetic Field Can Be?(1/99)



Important notices






A persistent problem noted by Apollo astronauts on the Moon was dust. It got everywhere, including into their lungs. However, that may be where future Moon explorers get their next breath of air: The moon¡¦s dusty layer of soil is nearly half oxygen.

Apollo 17 geologist Schmitt scoops up moon rocks and soil

All we have to do is vaporize the stuff. Cardiff of NASA¡¦s Goddard Space Flight Centre is leading a several team developing ways to provide astronauts oxygen they will need on the Moon and Mars.

Lunar soil is rich in oxide. The most common is silicon dioxide (SiO2), like beach sand as Cardiff considered. Other are oxides of calcium (CaO), iron (FeO) and magnesium (MgO). If add up all the Os, about 43% of mass of the lunar soil is oxygen. In light of these findings, the team is working on a technique that heats lunar soils until they release oxygen. This is just a simple aspect of chemistry in that any material crumbles into atoms if made hot enough. The technique is called vacuum pyrolysis-pyro means ¡§fire¡¨, lysis means ¡§to separate.¡¨ A number of factors make prolysis more attractive than other technique. It requires no raw material to be brought from Earth and there is no need to prospect for a particular mineral. It just needs to scoop up the soil on ground and apply heat.

In a proof of principle, the team used a lens to focus sunlight into a tiny vacuum chamber and heated 10 grams of simulated lunar soil to about 2,500 oC. Test samples included ilmenite and Minnesota Lunar Simulant, or MLS-1a. Ilmenite is an iron/titanium ore that Earth and the Moon have in common. MLS-1a is made from billion-year-old basalt found on the north shore of Lake Superior and mixed with glass particles that simulate the composition of the lunar soil. Simulated soil is used instead as it is too costly to use actual lunar soil at this stage. In the experiment, it was estimated that about 20% of simulated soil was converted to free oxygen.

A lens focuses sunlight into a vacuum chamber filled with simulated moondust, producing oxygen and ¡§slag¡¨

On the other hand, Cardiff and his colleagues at NASA's Langley Research Centre also try to turn the ¡§slag¡¨, a low-oxygen, highly metallic, and often glassy material, which is left after the experiment, into useful products like radiation shielding or pavement.

Slag - a low-oxygen byproduct of Cardiff's device

The next step is to increase efficiency. In May, the team ran tests at lower temperatures but with harder vacuums as oxygen could be extracted with less power under this condition. The first test was at a pressure 760,000 times thinner than sea level pressure on Earth. At another thousand thinner, the temperatures required could further be significantly reduced.

Cardiff is not alone in this quest. A team led by Berggren of Pioneer Astronautics in Colorado is working on a system that harvests oxygen by exposing lunar soil to carbon monoxide. In one demonstration they extracted 15 kg of oxygen from 100 kg of lunar simulant-an efficiency comparable to Cardiff's pyrolysis technique. Besides, Grimmett of the Pratt & Rocketdyne in California is also working on magma electrolysis. He melts MLS-1 at about 1,400¢XC and uses electric current to to free the oxygen.

Finally, NASA and the Florida Space Research Institute are sponsoring MoonROx, the Moon Regolith Oxygen competition. A $250,000 prize goes to the team that can extract 5 kg of breathable oxygen from JSC-1 lunar stimulant, a new lunar soil simulant developed under the auspices of NASA Johnson Space Centre, in 8 hours . The competition will close on 1 June 2008, but the challenge of living on other planets will last for generations.



*http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2006/05may_moonrocks.htm
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