back to article Fly me to the M(O2)n: Euro scientists extract oxygen from 'lunar dust' by cooking it with molten salt electrolysis

Scientists at the European Space Agency are trying to extract oxygen from something very close to lunar soil. The ESA team can't try their technique on actual lunar soil samples: the amounts brought back are tiny and too valuable. Instead, the boffins have constructed a chemical equivalent, and are investigating, at a new …

  1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

    ... let's figure out how do we get large enough quantity of kitchen salt to the Moon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

      Moon cheese already has sold added during preparation

      1. Korev Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

        >Moon cheese already has sold added during preparation

        You dropped some errr Clangers there...

    2. Chris G Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

      Sea salt is the answer; Mar Imbrium, Sea of Tranquility etc, all they'll need is a bucket and a boiler to get the salt.

    3. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

      >... let's figure out how do we get large enough quantity of kitchen salt to the Moon.

      Maybe they could use some water from the Sea of Tranquility

    4. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

      Using kitchen salt is a bit of a no-no since the metal you end up with is sodium which would grab the oxygen molecules at the other end of the cell and burn. Which is why you use CaCl2 instead as metallic calcium is much safer and more tractable.

      Also since the chloride is retained the CaCl2 could be reconstituted for further O2 production.

    5. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Now that the O2 problem is solved ...

      Witches salt - evil CaCl2.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This has been talked about for years...

    ...and I have to admit to being very surprised that no one has actually tested it given how important the method would be for staying rather than just visiting the moon.

    You would have imagined that the US at least would have done some testing, given their obvious liking for Robert Heinlein's SciFi

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: This has been talked about for years...

      If they could actually get to the moon, perhaps they could do the test in situ. Perhaps they could subcontract that bit out to someone?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This has been talked about for years...

      It's a bit like testing if things fall on the moon. It's theoretically a given, that rock with some oxygen (could even be trace) will be able to be heated/etc to extract said oxygen.

      Figuring out a cheap, easy, useful and also method to get there and do it, is the hard part. Thus lots of paper theories, and less needed/desire to actually do it (the samples are rather rare, thus saved for more important/pressing tests).

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Headmaster

        Re: This has been talked about for years...

        "It's a bit like testing if things fall on the moon"

        That particular experiment was performed at the end of the Apollo 15 mission.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This has been talked about for years...

          Yep! But obvs the question "why did no one test it before", is obvious. ;)

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: This has been talked about for years...

        Yes, unless they are planning on taking a nuclear power generator or a large number of solar panels, then it's not going to happen. Energy intensive processes require intense energy. The newer flexible and lighter solar power generating materials might be a good option. They could just be rolled out across the ground.

    3. Mike the FlyingRat
      Coat

      Re: This has been talked about for years...

      Ah yes, A 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' reference.

      While its interesting... there is a lot more research that has to occur.

      First is the salt a catalyst or does it get used up in the reaction and has to be replaced?

      (Because the article talks about useful metals... I suspect that its used up so then the question is how much is necessary and how long it will last given that there's a cost of refining and transferring said salt to the moon.)

      But how would you heat it? Could you get a solar / electric oven hot enough? What about a baby nuke generator?

      Its interesting and of course... maybe one could fund a small robotic excursion to the moon to get a working sample?

      Of course that would lead to better robotics and there are a couple of various science fiction stories around robotics... (cue the Issac Asimov references...)

      Mine's the jacket with the mini-ipad loaded with a large collection of Sci-fi books. :-)

      1. JCitizen Bronze badge
        Go

        Re: This has been talked about for years...

        Since helium 3 is more common on the moon that anywhere on earth, one could use fusion to literally build oxygen out of helium building blocks. It is just a matter of swapping out protons and such until you get an O2 molecule. The moon would be much easier to do fusion on anyway because of the low gravity. Since they have had relatively good success doing so on earth these days, it should be even easier up there. Helium 3 fusion reactions have an advantage no other element has, because it puts off less radiation and more power during the fusion process. The disadvantage of high heat, would be offset by an easier process of magnetic containment. The equipment used would gain much less radioactivity during this process. It has a lot of advantages, all of which focus on the fact that the moon is as close to the perfect source and environment for such projects.

  3. werdsmith Silver badge

    Another research area, extracting water from moon rock has also been shown to work.And the scientists have had access to genuine moon rock to do the work.

  4. iron Silver badge

    > the cathode – the positively charged anode

    It has been almost 30 years but when I was at Glasgow Uni the cathode was the negatively charged electrode.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Joke

      Yeah, but that was Scotland

    2. KarMann Bronze badge
      Headmaster

      I can never remember which is which myself, so I went and checked, and found the explanation for your confusion. In a galvanic cell, e.g. a battery cell, the cathode is the positive electrode. But in an electrolytic cell, such as the article discusses, it's the negative one. So, you're both right, in different contexts.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        That would explain why I can never remember which one is called which.

        I prefer to call them "the one the electrons are coming out of" and "the other one".

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Cathode is from the Greek kat + hodos, literally the way down. (Hence catastrophe, a "downward stroke"). It's the one, in the electrolysis cell, that the metals "come down" at. The anode is the "way up", the one that oxygen and chlorine are evolved at.

        Incidentally two things occur to me about this research:

        1.Molten salt electrolysis is not novel in the slightest, it's how you get aluminium, and how metallic sodium and potassium were originally made by Davy.

        2.It is a very energy intensive process. In making aluminium oxygen is an unwanted byproduct that burns away the anodes. It tends to be operated where you have plenty of hydro power because you need to run the plant 24/7 - it really doesn't like cooling down. So, where is the power coming from? Not much available water on the Moon.

        1. Avatar of They
          Thumb Up

          Power supply.

          First thought nuclear batteries. Second thought Solar. Yes things hitting it, like flying rocks from the skies - is a problem. But no wind, rust or clouds to impede. :)

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Power supply.

            > nuclear batteries

            What's a "nuclear battery"? If you mean radioisotope thermoelectric generators, like far-going space probes carry them, their output is pathetic (470 W for Pioneer's): You would have difficulties boiling water with them, much less salt.

            As for solar, it has to improve a huge lot to be able to yield the thousands of MW needed. But whatever you do, there remains the small problem of the 2 weeks long nights (the moon being tidally locked, its day/night cycle is 28 days long).

            Note that besides the energy needed to melt those rocks, you'll also need at least as much to collect them, transport them, crush them to powder, and remove the dross after the electrolysis has finished. The logistics of alumin(i)um production (from mining to ingot) are a pretty good indicator of the effort you would need.

            On the other hand, given one person needs a little less than 1 l of O2 per day (IIRC), this could indeed work for smaller settlements, if only as a backup if local food plants don't yield enough.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

              Re: Power supply.

              I don't think the 28 day lunar cycle is a problem, just produce enough in 14 days to carry you through to the next 'day'.

              Whilst an expensive proposition, it's not nearly as expensive as shipping in oxygen from Earth.

              1. ThatOne Silver badge

                Re: Power supply.

                That's the solution of course, but the question remains if it is doable (after all you have to move tons of dirt around, melt them and electrolyze them - that would require quite some operation, and a huge lot of energy).

              2. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

                Re: Power supply.

                >"it's not nearly as expensive as shipping in oxygen from Earth."

                One day, with a high enough production level, the moon could become the main supplier of oxygen for space missions. The lower gravity making it cheaper to deliver to orbit.

        2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Boffin

          It tends to be operated where you have plenty of hydro power because you need to run the plant 24/7 - it really doesn't like cooling down. So, where is the power coming from? Not much available water on the Moon.

          Seems that using a molten salt reactor could be used both to refine the products and to generate power. It would still need some water, but it could still function pretty much as a closed system.

      3. mr-slappy
        Happy

        So, you're both right^H^H^H^H^H wrong, in different contexts.

        FTFY (this is the Reg after all)

      4. AndrueC Silver badge
        Happy

        It's that kind of thing that probably explains why I failed the analogue electrical part of my HND. That and the fact I'm a bit thick :)

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Boffin

          Having taken the HNC (Full time & didn't opt to upgrade to HND with a few extra units), the Level IV Analogue Principles & Maths unit was apparently the hardest one on the whole syllabus (& outside it), it was a right bastard & our lecturer into extreme calculus only made it worse.

          We had "Dangermouse" twice a week & on Friday mornings for three god awful hours of him extrapolating things on his whiteboard (Made ITIL training look like a cakewalk) & expecting us to follow it (Friday mornings were best spent nursing hangovers & zoning him out (Much like "Chenoble" (doped up with lunchtime drinks) on Wednesday afternoons especially when goaded into his pet subject "Partial Address Decoding").

          He only discovered this at the end of term test, when only 3 students (The Libyan refugee with a maths degree, a university drop out & a unemployed hippy\Unix bearded programmer who had taken the course rather than be put on some form of work detail in the community) managed to score over 47%.

          He restructured his course & I just about managed to pass it (but that grade still cost me my conditional offer at Reading Uni to jump on the second year of a degree course though).

          Level V Analogue Principles & Maths\Electronics, was taught at a much more practical level by the next tutor & I think I managed a reasonable merit or at least a better pass.

          1. AndrueC Silver badge
            Happy

            I did quite well with my OND but I was the last year to do the original (1970s?) version. That course worked better for me because it made you think rather than just throwing information at you and hoping it would stick. There was a time, thanks to that course, that I was quite good at calculus (though integration was always a pain). And I'd only left with school with a grade 2 in CSE maths.

            First 'maths' lesson of the HND course we were given a page of calculus formula and told those would be the only ones we'd encounter in the exams. And maths was optional after the first term.

            So it was back to listening to lecturers droning on and trying to make notes in an attempt to remember everything. Plus analogue electronics is just hard I remember one part where we were being taught how to create power supply circuitry. Every single step seemed to need yet another circuit to stabilise the last one.

            Anyway I was already into computers and had begun to realise that I could program them as easily and 'thoughtlessly'(*) as I could talk to people. Possibly more so. So I decided to switch careers and get paid for doing something laughably easy. That was in the mid 1980s and I've never regretted that decision. Just call me the computer whisperer :)

            (*)Without obvious conscious thought I should say. The results of my endeavours show that some form of mental processing is taking place but damned if I'm aware of it any more than I'm aware of how I construct coherent English sentences :)

    3. RockBurner

      The confusion is coming from the way the paragraph has been written :

      Quote: " The oxygen in the regolith is released and travels through the molten salt mixture to be collected at the anode – the positively charged electrode – as gas. The various metals in the lunar soil are extracted too and pile up at the cathode – the positively charged anode."

      If you can make sense of that, bully for you... I can't.

      1. A Nother Handle
        Holmes

        The problem is that the final anode should be an electrode.

  5. Bilious

    Energy

    It would be nice to know the energy needed per mol of oxygen and to see suggestions for where the energy would come from.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Duh!

      From captured Clangers forced to run on a treadmill!!!!

    2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Energy

      "suggestions for where the energy would come from"

      Solar.

      1. Luiz Abdala Bronze badge
        Alert

        Re: Energy

        I wonder if we have any vehicle besides the Saturn V rocket that can actually reach the moon these days... with a significant payload of solar panels and batteries and perhaps 2 guys to put them together.

        1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
          Alien

          Re: Energy

          Well considering the Indians and Chinese recently managed to get robots to the moon to varying degrees of success, I'd say yes..

          This however is all fun and games until they dig up something black... Very black. Beyond pentablack black... Say something 11 foot high, 5 foot wide and 1 ¼ foot deep (give or take some rounding off to make it 1:4:9).

          I need a lie down now... nurse! My frog pills if you please?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Energy

          IIRC in fully expendable mode, SpaceX could get a LOT to the moon, and not just in multiple launches (Falcon Heavy is huge, just not quite Saturn V size launches yet). Remember, they launched a car to the Martian orbital zone, and a little beyond.

          However, the resources/need/want/logistics of the crew capsule are the thing many are waiting on.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Energy

        Except during the 2 weeks long night...

        The moon is tidally locked, so it's 2 weeks day, 2 weeks night up there.

    3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Energy

      It would be nice to know the energy needed per mol of oxygen and to see suggestions for where the energy would come from.

      Solar. Lack of atmosphere and tidal locking would mean more watts per panel/reflector than are available on Earth, and no clouds to obscure them. Dust would likely be an issue though, especially as lunar dust is very abrasive due to the lack of weathering.

      The thing that still intrigues me is whether we could vitrify lunar dust & rock, and then use a robo-brickworks to create construction materials for future lunar habitats. Which may also mean an ability to do some refining, ie collect anything outgassed & vacuum form molten rock into blocks.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Facepalm

        Re: Energy

        Solar is not really that much better on the moon than on Earth. You have the benefit of longer days, but also longer "nights". So such long times without power is a worry, even if you get a small % boost from having no atmosphere.

        The moon is tidally locked to the earth, not to the sun! XD

        1. DCFusor Silver badge

          Re: Energy

          Depends on your value of "better".

          Full sun on the moon is around twice the watts/sq area as full sun anywhere on earth.

          There never any clouds on the moon.

          Peak and average are perfectly predictable, and the long day means things that take time to

          get going have that time. Being in vacuum makes insulation easier too.

          So, at least in the lunar day, it's perhaps 4 times as good as the best earthly location for solar power.

          I've lived on an off-grid solar power homestead since around 1980 and have been upgrading the entire time. It causes you to pay serious attention to such things. And it works even in Virginia, where we don't have 2 week days, but do have plenty of clouds, and are of course, beneath the entire Earth's atmosphere which eats around 50% of the solar flux even when it's clear.

          i can even run computers so as to annoy other commentards on the Reg in January...

        2. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Energy

          On earth PV peaks quite noriceably around noon when the sun passes through the least amount of breathable pollution. On the moon for 1/2 the time you can get max power from your PV - from sun up to sundown. No weather problems either. So I reckon you'd get 10 times the return you get on earth,.

          Not to be sneezed at.

          Well not while wearing a helmet.

        3. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

          Re: Energy

          >also longer "nights"

          Solar is ideal for oxygen production since the technology for storing oxygen is well established. I expect most of oxygen produced would end up being used as propellant as the oxygen used for breathing can be recycled.

    4. Andy 97

      Re: Energy

      A nuclear reactor driving some lasers perhaps?

      They'd also need to construct somewhere to contain the heat too.

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Energy

        In which case the shark spacesuits would be the next problem!

      2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Energy

        You could do that with some kind of Moonbase, then possibly expanding outwards constructing & monitoring dumps of spent nuclear fuel, perhaps even taking off some of the heat in the silos at a later more advanced point for generating power.

        I did see a series of documentaries on the feasibility on the whole concept back in the 70's, having it all up & operational by 1999.

        It all looked very promising, but they then got bogged down into creating some form of H&S disaster simulation towards the end of the first one & created a worse case scenario of what would happen if the dumps blew up & went wildly off track after that, getting more ridiculous in the second set of 24 episodes of the series of 48 lectures.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Energy

          In a few more years, 1999 will be further back in time than they were looking forward when they made the show. And we still don't have a moonbase or Eagles.

    5. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Energy

      Might I refer you to this Solar energy paper from 2018; https://www.e3s-conferences.org/articles/e3sconf/pdf/2018/24/e3sconf_solina2018_00053.pdf

      This is notwithstanding the potential risk of meteor strikes, some mentioned the regolith as being extremely abrasive but considering the lack of atmospheric perturbation to deposit dust onto the panels which would have no moving parts that could disturb the dust causing ingress and wear. A 1 square metre Fresnel lens from an old telly is enough to melt good sized chunks of obsidian in seconds (3002 degrees Fahrenheit) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svAPyyUJUCo so I think solar would be the most obvious and easier to construct and ship to the moon.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Energy- Dyson spheres?

        ..but considering the lack of atmospheric perturbation to deposit dust onto the panels which would have no moving parts that could disturb the dust causing ingress and wear.

        Cheers for the paper, something for me to read tomorrow. As I understand things, there'd still be moving parts.. So challenges from dust being kicked up by lunar vehicles, people & machinery which would still be deposited given the Moon's gravity. And where microgravity might make life more complicated given dust could travel further, and no wind to blow it off mirrors, lenses and any joints that aren't carefully sealed. And I guess vacuum cleaners wouldn't work.

        A 1 square metre Fresnel lens from an old telly is enough to melt good sized chunks of obsidian in seconds

        Praise the Sun! But I think the biggest challenge is avoiding having to ship lots of mass out of our gravity well and into space, and thence the Moon and Mars. So being able to fab things like mirrors and lenses in situ would be handy. And gives me fun things to think about, like how to make flat, or the desired geometries in microgravity. I guess mirroring would be easier(ish) via vacuum deposition. And spheres would seem doable. Get your Space Balls here! Or genuine(ish) Lunar 'crystal' balls, packed full of energy and unsullied by human activities. Express delivery available from high orbit to avoid any pesky radiological concerns.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Energy- Dyson spheres?

          Mirrors are easy to produce in gravity - just spin the molten glass and you have a parabola! Also with lower moon gravity you dont have to use as much support to keep it 'in spec', You could probably build a 100m mirror on the moon and defend if from all comers until sunset!

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Energy

        > A 1 square metre Fresnel lens from an old telly

        Where and why do old TVs have Fresnel lenses??? (Intrigued. I'd like to have one...)

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Energy

          Cos it was really hard to make CRTs big enough without all sorts of distortion creeping in.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: Energy

            Thanks. Sounds counter-intuitive though: Fresnel lenses are optical devices, and everything in a cathode-ray tube is electrical until the electron hits the phosphor on the inner side of the screen. So where is there a Fresnel lens? Between the phosphor and the viewer? *scratches head*

            I'd hate to open (implosion!) one and find nothing...

            1. annodomini2

              Re: Energy

              They were an add on, where in the film WALL-E, where it makes the image on the i-Pod bigger, that is a Fresnel lens.

              When used in reverse they can create a sharp focus from a wide area.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not just plant trees on the moon as they are excellent oxygen providers and cheese makes for excellent soil.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Isn't there already a crystal tree on the moon?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sSTbSTGnRU

      Worthy mention for adding this tree to the moon mission (for light relief):

      * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XqMF5ou7hE

      40 seconds in

  7. ForthIsNotDead
    Stop

    'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

    Just who are these 'future settlers'? Have they been consulted. Have they volunteered to go an live on a hostile lump of rock some ~230,000 miles away from their home planet, or have they been 'volunteered' by someone else?

    You wouldn't get me up there for all the tea in China! And that's a lot of tea!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

      I can't imagine who they might be. I for one will stay right where I am in the Olduvai Gorge, And what is this 'tea' you talk of - sounds a bit exotic? Eating grubs, roots and antelopes was quite good enough for great gran Lucy, and she lived right into her late teens so I don't see why we should change our habits now.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

        Sadly we don't know the actual perceived quality of life of our ancestors, but a lot of religions (including the Bible) look back to the time of hunter gatherers as being a "golden age" and regard the coming of agriculture and herding as a step backwards (what do you think Genesis 3 is really about?)

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

          Dunno, but if it was anything like Roddenberrys prior documentary Genesis 2, would have been more about the navel of civilisation.

          Icon - Doesn't care about network censorship & displays her belly button frequently to anyone interested. enough to film it

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

        Don't know if that is a direct quote from the book.

        But everybody needs to read "Evolution Man: Or, How I Ate My Father" by Roy Lewis

    2. The Last Elephant

      Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

      What do you think we have "Social Media Influencers" for?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

        To waste oxygen?

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: 'Being able to acquire oxygen would obviously be hugely useful for future settlers'

          To waste it? Or steal it?

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Sounds a really good.

    Perhaps the next idea will be how to get a mains extension lead, or at least a football pitch or ten of solar panels, to supply enough juice to boil a million fresh goose eggs?

    Perhaps a pump and length of hose draped back to the Earth's atmosphere would be cheaper? Make the hose out of diamond and you could turn it into a space elevator too ...

    1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      Make the hose out of diamond and you could turn it into a space elevator too ...

      Not quite a space elevator, but a relevant XKCD nontheless:

      https://what-if.xkcd.com/157/

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      "Make the hose out of diamond"

      A bit brittle for your application I think. Probably spider web would be better. Since it's a demanding application, might need mutant spiders.

      For some reason, I find the notion of mutant spiders bred for super strong web material acceptable as an engineering solution, but -- on another level -- a bit creepy.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Giant mutant spiders descending from space - thank you for a good nights sleep

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          You'd prefer zillions of itty-bitty mutant spiders descending from space?

  9. Siberian Hamster

    Maybe a better option would be to use partially spent nuclear fuel, the energy density is still good enough to make it a viable source of energy.

    That would finally lead us to be able to build the first ever moon base, the 'Alpha' if you will...

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Coat

      Is that before or after...

      The earth proceeds to fart it's way out of the solar system?

      Mines the one with the space corps. regs in the pocket...

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Nuclear power on the moon

      "Maybe a better option would be to use partially spent nuclear fuel, the energy density is still good enough to make it a viable source of energy."

      Nuclear power seems a reasonable solution for power on the moon. But, there's one thing. Nuclear power plants here on Earth are really heat engines that run off the thermal energy difference between a working fluid heated in the reactor and some cooling entity -- typically a lake, river, or ocean. On the moon, you'd need a probably need a large radiating array to provide the cool side. And half the time you'd need to shade the array from direct sunlight. That's all probably doable. But likely kind of complex.

      Maybe solar power and a BIG battery would be simpler.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Nuclear power on the moon

        Out of...erm...curiosity, how does Curiosity's nuclear power source work on Mars?

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: Nuclear power on the moon

          "Out of...erm...curiosity, how does Curiosity's nuclear power source work on Mars?"

          Thermocouples. Thermocouples are heat engines also I think. At least they need a temperature difference to function. Curiosity apparently cools the cold surface by conduction/convection(?) to Mars very thin but quite cold atmosphere. http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2012/ph240/belanger2/

        2. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Nuclear power on the moon

          > how does Curiosity's nuclear power source work on Mars?

          It uses a Radioisotope thermoelectric generator, like most space probes. RTGs are the go-to energy source for everything that can't use solar panels because it's either too far from the sun (outer solar system), bound to be in the shade a lot of the time, or when solar panels are impractical or insufficient.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Nuclear power on the moon

            @vtcodger & @ThatOne

            Thanks guys. I wasn't sure if there was quite enough atmosphere on Mars for there to be any effective convection/heat dissipation.

      2. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Nuclear power on the moon

        "Maybe solar power and a BIG battery would be simpler."

        A big battery for general purposes maybe, but not necessary for turning cucumbers into sunlight...I mean salt into oxygen - just produce enough during the daylight hours to see you through the dark times.

  10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Too valuable?

    Valuable to whom exactly, and why? The only value I can see in any lunar dust that's been bought back is the value to the scientific community to actually conduct research experiments such as the one proposed in the article. If the only "value" is an economic one derived solely from "well... it cost us a lot to go there and get it back... so you can't have it", then overall I can't actually see the point in bringing it back in the first place.

    1. adam 40

      Re: Too valuable?

      Yeah - and didn't they bring back a tonne or two of it in the end? So there should be plenty of the real stuff to do an experiment like this on.

      Also - you might want to try it with the real thing before you send your astronauts up there to suffocate.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Too valuable?

        Less than 200kg has been got from the moon!

  11. spold Silver badge
    Pint

    Alternate solution...

    Simpler to ferment Blue String Soup. The resulting CO2 can be split using the abundant intense UV light, and you can distill the product using solar heat to produce moonshine. Well that's the moon sorted. Cheers.

  12. Andy 97

    Space Force!

    You'd need a laser to get anywhere near that kind of heat without burning carbon.

    I suspect any number of world powers would love a Moon-based laser to control.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: Space Force!

      Have already pointed out the shark spacesuit issue with this solution!

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Space Force!

      On the moon you can heat the surface of something to near the suns surface temperature using its rays. More than hot enough to boil a monkeys bum your majesty.

  13. vtcodger Silver badge

    I've heard rumors

    That there are things called "plants" that will convert Carbon Dioxide and water -- both byproducts of human metabolism -- to Oxygen and a bit of waste material. Not only that, but the waste material is said to be edible (as long as it isn't something called "kale").

    Further research is needed.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I've heard rumors

      And pray tell where will you get the CO2 from on the moon?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: I've heard rumors

        "both byproducts of human metabolism"

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: I've heard rumors

          But that needs humans up there and it needs the stuff to be transported there in the first place!

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