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100,000 Years Worth of Human Survival Right at Our Finger Tips, We Just Have to Grab it


Survival on the moon hinges on oxygen. If some sudden disaster struck and we had to move all eight billion of Earth’s inhabitants to the Moon, there would be enough oxygen locked up in the top 10 feet of dust to breathe for “somewhere around 100,000 years.” While that’s nice to know, it will never happen. The news is really important because it means that a big enough colony to insure success can harvest all the oxygen they need, endlessly.

Long-term survival is possible

If human beings were to establish a foothold on the lunar surface, they need two vital elements for survival which cannot be imported from Earth, air and water. In 2020, NASA confirmed that there is water ice to be mined “in the cold, permanently shadowed craters at the Moon’s poles.”

That’s half the challenge. In October, “the Australian Space Agency and NASA signed a deal to send an Australian-made rover to the Moon under the Artemis program, with a goal to collect lunar rocks that could ultimately provide breathable oxygen on the Moon.”

It works so fantastic on paper they can’t wait to try it out. The Moon actually does have an atmosphere, just not much of one. What little there is has been noted to compose mostly hydrogen, neon, and argon.

It won’t keep you from exploding through your skin, much less provide enough to breathe. That’s really not a problem for survival. To live on Luna, “loonies” need to dig tunnels. What could be better than learning the rock and dust they need to clear away can be converted into the air they need as well?

Geologists get upset when you call the stuff coating the Moon “soil.” Even “dirt” is too nice a word for it. “Soil as we know it is pretty magical stuff that only occurs on Earth. It has been created by a vast array of organisms working on the soil’s parent material.”

What colonists will depend on for survival is called “regolith.” Made up of silica and aluminum, with some iron and magnesium oxides mixed in, the hard rock, dust, gravel and stones covering the surface contain oxygen. You can’t just sniff the rocks like Robinson Caruso on Mars and his monkey, but you can cook them to release the oxygen.


It can be done, for a price

The experts are convinced that almost half the regolith has oxygen trapped in minerals. To get it out they use electrolysis but it takes a whole lot of energy.

Survival on the Moon could rely on the same process which produces aluminum on Earth, “an electrical current is passed through a liquid form of aluminum oxide (commonly called alumina) via electrodes, to separate the aluminum from the oxygen.” Here, the oxygen is only a byproduct, On the moon, the waste aluminum could be used to line the tunnels with.

While the technology for survival is simple, the cost is high in terms of energy. “To be sustainable, it would need to be supported by solar energy or other energy sources available on the Moon.”

There are new advancements which could solve those challenges too. “Extracting oxygen from regolith would also require substantial industrial equipment.”

The process would work like this. “We’d need to first convert solid metal oxide into liquid form, either by applying heat, or heat combined with solvents or electrolytes. We have the technology to do this on Earth, but moving this apparatus to the Moon – and generating enough energy to run it – will be a mighty challenge.”

When survival is at stake, the problem gets solved. Just this year, “Belgium-based startup Space Applications Services announced it was building three experimental reactors to improve the process of making oxygen via electrolysis. They expect to send the technology to the Moon by 2025.”

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