50 years ago, a spacecraft discovered oxygen in moon rocks | Science News


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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, a spacecraft discovered oxygen in moon rocks

Excerpt from the October 14, 1967 issue of Science News

7:00am, October 5, 2017
a moon rock

OXYGEN HUNT  Scientists now know moon rocks (one shown) can contain oxygen, but researchers are still figuring out the best techniques to extract the life-sustaining oxygen from the moon’s surface.

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The earthy moon

Space scientists have been intrigued for years with the possibility of finding usable oxygen on the moon — not in the lunar atmosphere, since there essentially is none, but in the rocks. As long ago as 1962 … [NASA researchers] predicted vast lunar processing plants turning out 4,000 pounds of liquid oxygen per month, both for breathing and as an oxidizer for rocket fuel…. Now the Surveyor 5 spacecraft … reveals it is standing directly over just the kind of rock that would do the job. — Science News, October 14, 1967


The moon is not yet dotted with lunar oxygen factories, but scientists are still devising ways to pull oxygen from moon rocks. One technique, proposed by NASA scientists in 2010, isolates oxygen by heating lunar rocks to over 1650° Celsius and exposing them to methane. Chemical reactions would produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which then react to create water. Passing an electric current through the water would separate oxygen from hydrogen, allowing the desired gas to be captured.


Science News Staff. The earthy moon. Science News. Vol. 92, October 14, 1967, p. 367.

R. Balasubramaniam, S. Gokoglu and U. Hegde. The reduction of lunar regolith by carbothermal processing using methane. International Journal of Mineral Processing. Vol. 96, September 2010, p. 54. doi: 10.1016/j.minpro.2010.06.001.

Further Reading

T. Sumner. Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moon. Science News. Vol. 191, April 15, 2017, p. 18.

T. Sumner. Oxygen atoms from Earth bombard the moon. Science News. Vol. 191, March 4, 2017, p. 18.

M. Rosen. Moon’s origins revealed in rocks’ chemistry. Science News. Vol. 186, July 12, 2014, p. 14.

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