Scientists find key to unlock oxygen from moon's surface, raising hopes of space outpost in future

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Washington, September 25 (ANI): Following the discovery of water on the Moon by an instrument aboard India's recently ended Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, researchers from NASA and Case Western Reserve University have found a key to unlocking oxygen from the surface of the moon, which would help make a space outpost possible in the future.

Scientists from NASA and Case Western Reserve are designing and testing components of an oxygen generator that would extract the element from silicon dioxide and metal oxides in the ground.

They have designed sifters needed to produce a consistent supply of oxides.

To find out how the sifters would work in the moon's gravity, which is about one-sixth as strong as the Earth's, Katie Fromwiller, a senior civil engineering student, and Julie Kleinhenz, an assistant research professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, spent two days flying in high arcs off the Texas coast last month.

This was Fromwiller's first trip on the plane, which space researchers refer to as the "vomit comet," due to the unsettling ride.

Inside the plane, the pull of gravity approximated the moon's weak gravity during the rapid drop in each arc. The riders felt twice the pull of the Earth's gravity on the way back up. During two runs, they floated in zero gravity.

NASA wants to learn how to work with the soils, and Fromwiller's focus is geotechnical engineering. She teamed with Kleinhenz, a veteran of more than 1,000 hours on the vomit comet.

NASA engineers were testing other components of the oxygen generator on the same flight.

According to Kleinhenz, NASA has plans to build a system that includes a rover that would dig, carry and dump moon soil into a hopper or holding vessel.

Sifters would separate particles by size, collecting those that can be converted most efficiently. The particles can also be separated by composition.

The wanted particles would then be blown into a reactor with hydrogen and heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time, the oxygen released from the oxides would attach to the hydrogen and be collected.

David Zeng, Frank H. Neff Professor and Chair of Civil Engineering from the Case School of Engineering and one of the principal investigators of the study, and his team, are continuing to analyze data produced over the two days. Ultimately, NASA will decide which kind of device to use in the oxygen generator. (ANI)

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