Artist's impression of a base on the moon. Scientists claim that there is enough oxygen on the surface of the Moon for the entire human race for 100,000 years. Credit: ESA / P. Carril

Earth’s Moon Harbors Enough Oxygen for Human Race to Survive 100,000 Years

The Moon has a very thin atmosphere, which is composed mainly of hydrogen, neon, and argon. Yet, there is a lot of oxygen trapped inside the regolith - the layer of rock and dust that covers the surface.

The regolith layer of the lunar surface contains a significant amount of oxygen. Scientists from Southern Cross University (Australia) have made calculations based on which the extraction of oxygen on the Moon can sustain billions of people for 100,000 years. However, there are certain challenges in the extraction of oxygen that require modern solutions. 


There is enough oxygen on the Moon for a large-scale colonization

How much oxygen is there on the Moon?

Preliminary calculations show that each cubic meter of lunar regolith contains on average almost one and a half tons of valuable substances, in particular, more than 600 kilograms of oxygen. A person needs about 800 grams a day to survive, that is, oxygen from a cubic meter of lunar regolith is enough for one person for more than two years.

How long could humanity last on the Moon?

Australian researchers say that the average depth of the lunar regolith layer is ten meters. Having made calculations, scientists argue that oxygen from the regolith will be enough for the life of eight billion people for one hundred thousand years.

Australian rover to the Moon

The Australian space agency signed an agreement with NASA to send a rover to the natural satellite of our planet, which will collect lunar soil as part of the Artemis scientific program. One of the goals of collecting regolith is to study the possibility of obtaining oxygen from it.

Extracting oxygen on the Moon

Extracting oxygen from the regolith on the Moon is possible but difficult. Perhaps you have heard about electrolysis. This is a process that is common in the production of aluminum on Earth. It includes an electrical current passing through liquid aluminum oxide which separates it from the oxygen. The same process could be utilized on the Moon but with a small difference – on Earth, aluminum is the focus while on the Moon, oxygen will be the main product.

Several years ago, scientists created artificial lunar soil for tests. On the left, you see a pile of simulated regolith while on the right, you see the same pile once all the oxygen has been extracted. While we need the oxygen for survival, the metal alloys could be used by colonizers. Credit: ESA
Several years ago, scientists created artificial lunar soil for tests. On the left, you see a pile of simulated regolith while on the right, you see the same pile once all the oxygen has been extracted. While we need the oxygen for survival, the metal alloys could be used by colonizers. Credit: ESA

Difficulties

Although the necessary technology already exists and we already do this on Earth, extracting oxygen on the Moon will not be as simple. The process is straightforward but in order to achieve it, astronauts need industrial equipment. This will not only be difficult to transport to our natural satellite but it also requires sufficient amounts of energy. So, scientists have to find a way to power up this equipment and there are two main options – solar energy or energy sources that already exist on the Moon.

New solutions

Have you heard about a startup called Space Application Services? If not, the Belgian company announced the construction of experimental reactors that could be used in the extraction of oxygen. It is expected that this technology will be sent to our natural satellite in 2025.

Artemis Moon landing

In the end, we should mention that NASA postponed the first manned flight to the surface of the Moon. The agency was forced to delay the launch by at least a year due to the delays in the development of the new lunar landing system as well as the creation of proper spacesuits for work. Therefore, the first moon landing in 50 years will happen no earlier than 2025.


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Sources:

Al-Sibai, N. (2021, November 11). The Moon has enough oxygen buried beneath its surface to sustain billions of people. Futurism.
ESA. (n.d.). Oxygen and metal from lunar regolith.
Grant, J. (2021, November 10). The Moon’s top layer alone has enough oxygen to sustain 8 billion people for 100,000 years. The Conversation.
John Grant, T. C. (n.d.). The Moon’s surface has enough oxygen to keep billions alive for 100,000 years. ScienceAlert.
Lomax, B. A., Conti, M., Khan, N., Bennett, N. S., Ganin, A. Y., & Symes, M. D. (2019, September 19). Proving the viability of an electrochemical process for the simultaneous extraction of oxygen and production of metal alloys from lunar regolith. Planetary and Space Science.
Morales, M. (2021, November 11). Oxygen on moon surface: Australian space agency, NASA partner to collect lunar rocks that will keep billions alive for 100,00 years. Science Times.
Tomaswick, A. (2020, November 30). Figuring out how to breathe the moon’s regolith. Universe Today.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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