A team from Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston successfully removed oxygen from simulated lunar soil within a vacuum environment for the first ever time by using a high-powered laser to create a carbothermal reaction.
The Carbothermal Reduction Demonstration (CaRD) experiment could prove vital for producing oxygen for breathing, as well as for propellant for transportation.
“Our team proved the CaRD reactor would survive the lunar surface and successfully extract oxygen,” said Nasa engineer Anastasia Ford.
“This is a big step for developing the architecture to build sustainable human bases on other planets.”
Establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon is one of the long-term goals of Nasa’s Artemis mission, which will see the first astronauts return to the lunar surface as early as 2025.
The success of the latest experiment means the oxygen harvesting technology is now at a readiness level of six, meaning it is ready to be tested in space.
“The technology has the potential to produce several times its own weight in oxygen per year on the lunar surface, which will enable a sustained human presence and lunar economy,” said Aaron Paz, a senior engineer at Nasa.
Earlier this month, Nasa announced the four astronauts that will venture around the Moon on the Artemis II mission, which will be the first crewed space flight of the programme.
The 10-day flight test will see the astronauts travel in the Orion spacecraft, launched aboard Nasa’s huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. They will be the first astronauts to fly within the vicinity of the Moon in more than 50 years.
The US space agency has already completed an uncrewed test flight of the Orion craft, which saw it fly around the Moon and return to Earth in November 2022.
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