NASA recently achieved a significant milestone towards the establishment of a human presence on the Moon as part of its Artemis program.
NASA scientists have successfully extracted oxygen from simulated lunar soil in a "dirty" chamber that mimics the conditions on the Moon's surface.
During the test conducted at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, a team of scientists from NASA's Carbothermal Reduction Demonstration (CaRD) created fine-grained soil to simulate the material covering the Moon's surface.
Using a high-powered laser that simulated heat from a solar energy concentrator, the team was able to melt the lunar soil simulant. After the soil was heated, the scientists were able to detect carbon monoxide using the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo), a device that was designed to help scientists search for water on the Moon.
This marks the first time scientists were able to extract oxygen from the lunar soil simulant in a vacuum environment.
The recent test was conducted inside a special 15-foot wide spherical chamber known as the Dirty Thermal Vacuum Chamber, which was designed to recreate conditions similar to those found on the Moon. Aaron Paz, NASA senior engineer and CaRD project manager, said,
"This technology has the potential to produce several times its own weight in oxygen per year on the lunar surface, which will enable a sustained human presence and lunar economy."
Creating oxygen on the Moon from its soil could help support lunar habitats for future astronauts as NASA and other space agencies work towards establishing a sustainable presence on and around the Moon's surface.
The process of heating the soil and extracting the oxygen took place inside a carbothermal reactor, which uses high temperatures to produce carbon monoxide or dioxide on Earth to create items like solar panels and steel. NASA hopes to eventually utilize this technology to enable long-term habitation on the Moon.