Headlines > News > Draw oxygen from moon dirt, challenges NASA

Draw oxygen from moon dirt, challenges NASA

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Thu May 19, 2005 10:56 pm
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Centennial Challenges
http://exploration.nasa.gov/centennialchallenge/cc_index.html

NewScientist.com: NASA is giving inventors a chance to create a device to squeeze out oxygen from simulated moon dirt. And there is a cash prize for the first team to achieve the feat.

NASA launched the Centennial Challenges as an answer to the Ansari X-Prize, the $10 million space prize for the first private reusable vehicle to fly into space twice, which was won in October 2004. NASA’s first challenges were issued in March 2005 to build strong space tethers for future space elevators, and a payload-carrying wirelessly-powered robot that could climb a space cable. About 30 teams have expressed an interest in competing.

On Thursday, the space agency and the Florida Space Research Institute took the challenge to the Moon. The team which wins the Moon Regolith Oxygen challenge (MoonROx) will get $250,000 for being the first to pull out at least 5 kilograms of breathable oxygen from volcanic ash simulating lunar dirt. Their device cannot weigh more than 25 kilograms and the challenge ends on 1 June 2008.

“The use of resources on other worlds is a key element of the Vision for Space Exploration,” says Craig Steidle, NASA’s associate administrator for the exploration systems mission directorate. “This challenge will reach out to inventors who can help us achieve the Vision sooner,” he adds.

Lunar base

The Vision for Space Exploration is NASA’s plan to fly to the Moon and on to Mars. The Centennial Challenges are designed to spur technological innovation to return to the Moon and continue onward.

The lunar soil simulant, known as JSC-1, came from a basaltic ash deposit near Flagstaff, Arizona, US. The trace elements and particle sizes found in JSC-1 are similar to those in the soil found at the Apollo 14 landing site. The simulant is already used to test out advanced space suits and new lunar rovers. “Ideally we’d like to be using real moon rocks, but of course those are pretty scarce,” Brant Sponberg, NASA’s Centennial Challenges programme manager, told New Scientist.

Extracting oxygen out of the dirt would make a lunar base more self-sufficient and less reliant on oxygen deliveries from Earth. Sponberg says that ideally, NASA would send an oxygen generator to the Moon well ahead of astronauts, so they would have a supply of freshly made oxygen when they arrive.

NASA has $10 million to spend on Centennial Challenges this fiscal year. Sponberg says that in the months ahead, NASA will be announcing competitions for better astronaut gloves and autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to explore other worlds.

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