Moon Dirt Can Help us Travel to Mars and Into the Stars

Researchers say it is possible to create oxygen and rocket fuel using lunar soil, and the Sun's energy.

According to a study by Chinese scientists published in the journal Joule, our Moon’s soil contains active compounds that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and fuels.

Researchers are now testing how the materials found on the surface of the Moon can be used and turned into much-needed resources to help humankind travel to Mars and into the depths of our Solar System.

Researchers from the Nanjing University are now working on designing a functioning system that can take advantage of lunar soil and solar energy and combine the two most abundant resources on the Moon to create oxygen and rocket fuel.

Thanks to the lunar soil the Chinese Chang’e 5 mission delivered for analysis, the entire idea was made possible.

Panoramic image taken by the Chang'e-5 lander after sampling. Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)
Panoramic image taken by the Chang’e-5 lander after sampling. Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)

Using X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy, scientists found that lunar soil has several compounds, including iron and titanium, which are catalysts that can be used to create oxygen and other products using sunlight and carbon dioxide.

From this observation, the team proposed a sort of an “alien photosynthesis” strategy.

By electrolyzing lunar soil with water from the moon and from the astronauts’ life support system, the team proposed creating oxygen and hydrogen. Solar energy powers this process., making it very independent and straightforward.

According to the study, lunar soil can also catalyze the combustion of carbon dioxide to produce methane fuel from carbon dioxide.

The Chang'e 5 return capsule photographed at the landing site. Credit: New China
The Chang’e 5 return capsule was photographed at the landing site. Credit: New China

By using this method, a base on the moon would require no external energy other than sunlight for oxygen and fuel production.

The team is looking for an opportunity to test the system in space, likely with China’s future manned lunar missions. If the proposed system works as expected, it will change the way we explore the Earth-Moon system and planets of the inner solar system because it would drastically reduce the number of goods and resources that need to be shipped into orbit or the lunar surface.

“We use in-situ environmental resources to minimize rocket payload. Our strategy provides a scenario for a sustainable and affordable extraterrestrial living environment,” revealed the paper’s first author Yao Yingfang from Nanjing University.

The biggest issue to overcome is that research has found that the lunar soil efficiency wasn’t as good as the catalysts we have presently on Earth.

Another issue that researchers found is that it isn’t good enough to generate sufficient quantities of resources to support human colonies on the surface. However, by altering the structures and composition of the lunar soil, researchers could get just what they need to make this system work.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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