OU researchers create water out of Moon dust from NASA
Researchers at the Open University in Milton Keynes are investigating how Moon dust collected by Neil Armstrong can be converted into water, and subsequently, be used to produce bricks for construction projects in space.
Moon dust, brought back to Earth during Neil Armstrong’s first voyage to the Moon in 1969 will be used to study how humans can sustain themselves in space, which will, in turn, enable long-term space exploration missions.
Minute amounts of Moon dust samples collected during the 1969 NASA Apollo 11 mission are held in the Department of Physical Sciences at the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes and are being used for this research.
The study involves heating the Moon dust samples so that oxygen within the particles in the samples reacts with added hydrogen, thus producing water.
PhD student Hannah Sargeant who is working on the research commented on the significance of these findings, “Water is one of the most critical resources we need for space exploration – not just for the life support needs of humans but also to make rocket fuel.”
Sargeant also added that that water production, whether from frozen deposits at the lunar poles or from water generated from the rocks themselves will be the first step in unlocking long-term space exploration missions.
The new techniques used by these scientists are promising – the team has been able to derive a much higher volume of water in Moon dust than in previous investigations.
Simon Sheridan, a research fellow on the team, is developing a mass spectrometer on a prototype of the Moon rover.
The mass spectrometer is designed with the capability of detecting gases on the Moon’s surface which promises better results in their search of water in space.
Several other research initiatives will be carried out by the team, through collaborations with the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian scientists in the hopes of carrying out research right on the southern polar region of the Moon in the next five years.
Through these collaborations, scientists expect to be able to manufacture drinking water right on the surface of the Moon, which will be used as a resource by astronauts, and also to create fuel.
Professor of science and planetary exploration at the Open University, Mahesh Anand, has been a pioneer in the search for water on the moon for over 10 years.
Anand has also collaborated with scientists in Cologne, Germany to melt Moon dust to create bricks to enable construction projects to take place in space.