The dusty lunar soilthat hostile place where humanity set foot for the first time a little over fifty years ago, could ‘transform’ into elements as essential as oxygen (indispensable for life) and fuel (key to the future of space exploration). This is the challenge posed by a team of researchers from the University of Nanjing, in China, after outlining a “extraterrestrial photosynthesis strategy“to generate useful materials for future space missions.
This is the plan. As explained by the scientific team in an article published this Thursday in the journal ‘Joule’, the analysis of a sample of lunar rocks extracted by the Chinese mission Chang’e 5 has revealed that the lunar surface is rich in compounds such as titanium and iron. These compounds could be used as catalysts to achieve, for example, convert carbon dioxide to oxygen or in hydrocarbons like methane.
To achieve this, researchers Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou propose using a combination of agua extracted from the lunar surface itself (because yes, there are deposits of frozen water on the Moon), the hydrogen that is released from the breathing of the astronauts themselves and the solar radiation itself that hits the Moon. This mixture, channeled through a (still) experimental system, could generate useful compounds for space missions to the Moon and beyond.
The objectivethe scientists explain, is that this type of system can be used, in the first place, to establish a permanent base on the terrestrial satellite and, secondly, for drive quests to farther lands, as is the case with the first manned trips to Mars. “If we use these types of resources ‘in situ’ we can minimize the payload of rockets“, explains the researcher Yingfang Yao. “This strategy provides a scenario for a sustainable and affordable extraterrestrial life environment”, adds the scientist in the article published this Thursday.
It is not the first time that strategies have been studied to get oxygen and fuel beyond the Earth. Especially now that, according to space agencies around the world, a new era of space exploration begins in which humanity intends to go further and further from its mother planet. The Mars rover Perseverance, for example, landed just over a year ago on the dusty Martian soil, carries on board a scientific instrument to convert martian carbon dioxide into oxygen. Just a few weeks ago, NASA announced, the vehicle managed to produce “breathable oxygen on Mars” for the first time.
But in the case of the ploy devised by the Nanjing University team of scientists, the “alien photosynthesis” system could work autonomously. No need for earth materials. Of course, for the moment, the experts point out, This technology is still in the experimental phase.. Scientists hope to put it to the test in upcoming (manned) missions to the Moon.
“Just as the seventeenth century was baptized as the ‘age of candles’with hundreds of ships exploring the sea, we now see that we are entering the ‘space age,'” says Yao in relation to to the future of space exploration and, of course, to the importance of continuing to develop tools to make life possible outside of Earth.