Today’s Solutions: May 16, 2022

Each evening, we are used to seeing our transient moon positioned high in the sky. Humans have been fascinated by the familiar celestial body since the dawn of time, creating gods and useful calendars around its positioning. Since then, scientists have utilized the moon to help uncover secrets of our solar system’s evolution, asteroid impacts, and more.

The “extraterrestrial photosynthesis” strategy

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from Nanjing University are looking into an “extraterrestrial photosynthesis” strategy. Material scientists, Yingfang Yao and Zhigang Zou are hoping to design a system that could take advantage of lunar soil and solar radiation.

Lunar soil sample analysis has revealed an abundance of iron-rich and titanium-rich substances on the moon’s surface. Combined with sunlight and electrolyzed water – extracted from the moon and astronauts’ breathing exhausts – these compounds could work as the perfect catalyst to make oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrocarbons that could be used as a fuel.

The proposed idea is importantly sustainable, requires no external resources from Earth, could support life on a moon base, and provide fuel for humans’ curiosity about space. “We use in-situ environmental resources to minimize rocket payload, and our strategy provides a scenario for a sustainable and affordable extraterrestrial living environment,” Yao says.

“In the near future, we will see the crewed spaceflight industry developing rapidly,” says Yao. “Just like the ‘Age of Sail’ in the 1600s when hundreds of ships head to the sea, we will enter an ‘Age of Space.’ But if we want to carry out large-scale exploration of the extraterrestrial world, we will need to think of ways to reduce payload, meaning relying on as little supplies from Earth as possible and using extraterrestrial resources instead.”

The future is extraterrestrial

Many scientists have looked into different strategies for extraterrestrial survival, however, most of these use energy resources from Earth. Take NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover, for example, its instrument to create oxygen from carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere is still powered by a nuclear battery.

Studies such as this are the first step to understanding what it takes to create a working extraterrestrial energy system that doesn’t rely on precious resources from Earth. It’s likely the team’s system will be tested by China’s future crewed lunar missions to evaluate the practicalities of the strategy and to see where improvements can be made.

Source study: JouleExtraterrestrial photosynthesis by Chang’E-5 lunar soil

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