Chinese Scientists Discover How To Create Oxygen, Water And Fuel On The Moon

In the not too distant future, trips to the moon will be manned and of long duration. In order for astronauts to survive there for the duration of their mission, they must first find a way to create oxygen, water, and fuel with the resources that exist there, since transport from Earth is completely unfeasible.

Now, a team of Chinese astronomers from Nanjing University has just discovered how to achieve this and thus facilitate human exploration to create a permanent base.

After analyzing the lunar soil brought back by the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 5, these researchers discovered that the sample contained substances rich in iron and titanium that could work as catalysts to make oxygen and fuel from the solar radiation and CO2 that the future astronauts will exhale.

The group, led by scientists Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou, posits a kind of ‘alien photosynthesis’ that could be used to facilitate human exploration of the Moon and other planets in the Solar System.

This would be possible because, as they explain, the oxygen we breathe comes from plants and other photosynthetic organisms and they produce it while converting carbon dioxide (CO2) and sunlight into energetic sugars.

With the help of solar radiation, the system would use the lunar soil to electrolyte water, which could be extracted from the Moon itself and dehydrate the gases exhaled by astronauts, to generate oxygen and hydrogen. All this without the need to use external energy, creating a “zero energy consumption” extraterrestrial life support system.

In fact, the carbon dioxide emitted by future inhabitants of the Moon can also be stored and combined with that hydrogen through a hydrogenation process catalyzed by the lunar soil. This would generate hydrocarbons such as methane, which could be used as fuel. “We use in-situ environmental resources to minimize rocket payload, and our strategy provides a scenario for a sustainable and affordable extraterrestrial living environment,” Yao explained.

The results of this work have been published in the scientific journal Joule and the team is already looking for an opportunity to test this system in space, probably with China’s future manned lunar missions.

Yao also said his team is already testing different approaches to improve catalyst design, such as melting lunar soil into a “high-entropy nanostructured material.”

A kind of ‘alien photosynthesis’ that would facilitate human exploration on the Moon “ In the near future, we will see the manned spaceflight industry develop rapidly. Just like the ‘Age of Sail’ in the 17th century, when hundreds of ships took to the sea, we now enter an ‘Age of Space’.

But if we want to carry out a large-scale exploration of worlds beyond our own, we will have to think of ways to reduce the payload, that is, rely on as few supplies as possible from Earth and use extraterrestrial resources instead.

Reference(s): Peer-Reviewed Research, NewScientist

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