Extracting Water From the Moon With Basic Home Appliances

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Two scientists have cooked up a way to get water and oxygen from the moon. And to test their idea, they used a basic kitchen microwave oven. “This is exploration,” said Dr. Bill Kaukler of the University of Alabama in Huntsville’s Center for Materials Research. Kaukler and Dr. Ed Etheridge of Marshall Space Flight Center have proposed using microwaves to draw water from below the lunar surface. To do this, microwaves would be “shot” at the moon, likely from an orbiting spacecraft. But to test their theory, Kaukler and Etheridge didn’t build an elaborate test site. They just put a plate of simulated lunar regolith in a microwave oven and “nuked” it for a few minutes.

Kaukler said they were inspired by the results of 1994’s Clementine mission which uncovered the possible existence of ice within some of the craters at the moon’s poles. This discovery was confirmed in early 1998 by NASA’s lunar prospector. Scientists believe the ice was brought to the moon the same way water was brought to Earth – by comets crashing into the surface.

“If you estimate, there would be billions of tons of water,” Ethridge said.

The surface is covered by regolith, or silicate rock that is the lunar version of top soil. It’s about two meters deep “and where you have silicates, you have oxygen,” said Kaukler. “That makes it worthwhile to extract, and, one of the beauties of this is we don’t have to dig.”

Digging could stir up the fine, gritty dust. The microscopic particles then could adversely affect the astronauts’ spacesuits and their equipment, he said.

To get to the water, microwaves would be shot into the regolith, “thawing” the ice to about minus-50 degrees Celsius. Water vapor would be drawn to the surface by the moon’s vacuum environment. The water vapor is then collected on a plate as ice and scraped off to be used as water for the astronauts. The hydrogen and oxygen can also be separated through electrolysis to use as fuel for a trip to Mars.

In their Marshall lab, the scientists used a microwave oven, a vacuum, water and a simulant to regolith to verify their findings.

“We put some water in the simulant and placed it inside the microwave,” Kaukler said. “Then, we used the vacuum to replicate the lunar atmosphere.

“We were able to get about 95 percent of the water back in about two minutes.”

Other uses of microwaves would be to “melt” the lunar surface. The process would help create dust-free landing and launch sites as well as smoother floors for structures and roads for traveling without kicking up dust.

“For surface site preparation, the microwaves would melt the top layer, glazing it, so it’s not all dust,” Ethridge said. “It would create a cobblestone effect.”

So if the moon had water, oxygen and useable real estate, it might be a financially viable place to colonize.

“Since we’re planning to go to the moon and Mars, the idea is to save weight (on the flight) and to extract the materials the astronauts would need – oxygen and water,” said Kaukler. “There have been studies that showed (getting the water) to be economically viable,” he said. “It could be the first commercial venture.”

Source: Huntsville Alabama Times


12 Responses

  1. V-MAC says:

    My musings from March 28th, 2008 (Building a Moon Base: Part 4 – Infrastructure and Transportation): “Regolith Ice Cube Paving Stones. I recall that there are enough materials on the lunar surface to create water. So why not make a slurry with regolith and water? When poured into molds then exposed to space to freeze the resulting ice bricks would make excellent paving stones or habitat building blocks for that matter.”

  2. Igor the mad scientits says:

    Thanks for the article Nancy.

    I like the thinking.

  3. Gaussling says:

    As I write this I am thermally dehydrating a salt under vacuum in my lab. It seems to me that the natural ability of minerals to coordinate water of hydration is nothing new. Perhaps these fellows should consult with a chemist about how to obtain water from minerals. Water consists of the most abundant element in the universe (hydrogen) and the 1st or 2nd most abundant heavy element (oxygen). That it should be found in the regolith shouldn’t stretch ones mind too much. It would be interesting to see the data to support the cometary deposition theory. My question is this- is it discrete water or water of coordination? I would guess that discrete water would have sublimed a long time ago.

  4. Silver Thread says:

    You could also use a Microwave to recapture Water from Waste. I am sure the smell would be horrendous however.

  5. Yael Dragwyla says:

    Silver Thread — Add industrial formula hydrogen peroxide to wastewater from which all solids have been removed and it will kill off all microbes, parasites, etc. in it as well as removing the stench. I’m not sure of the proportions, so you’d have to experiment with it to get it just right. But H2O2 rather quickly degrades into H2 and O2, some of which recombine to form water (H2O), leaving three absolutely clean products (H2, O2, H2O) to recover. Cheap, extremely efficient, and very effective.

  6. Spectre says:

    How much energy would this process require? I mean would we be able to generate enough engery for sufficient water extraction just using solar power?

    I’m just wondering if this is actually feasible with current technology.

  7. Spectre says:

    *meant *practical* not *feasible*

  8. MJG says:

    So does this mean we’ll be buying equipment for Mars missions from Sears?

  9. Doug Keenan says:

    But in space there is no sound. How will astronauts hear the BEEP BEEP BEEP of the microwave to know when it’s finished?

  10. quantum_flux says:

    Iron oxide and ….?

  11. quantum_flux says:

    What are the secret ingredients in lunar regolith?

  12. Shantal says:

    Thought you might like this article, a theory on venus.

    11.10.2008
    Geneses to Genocide

    Back in the early 60’s I was stationed in Cyprus with 203 Signal Sgn. At one time I was lying on a door with a back injury, while the rest of the Sgn were away on exercise. The only thing I had to read was a bible given to me by the Mediterranean missionary garrison ladies. I started to read it, starting from page one. It seemed to me that rather than a religious book, this was an attempt by the people to chronicle the start of time on this planet, and somewhere between the lines I sensed warning, but what?
    Now I don’t suppose that Adam and Eve arrived here with pencil and paper in their pockets, or a typewriter in their suitcase. Therefore the circumstances of their arrival must have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Now I don’t suppose many generations would have passed before the stories began to change. How many centuries would have passed before the ability arrived to put these stories into print, and by the time how greatly would these stories have changed. Just suppose that one vital word had changed. What if instead of “lush green garden paradise in the east of Eden” it was “Lush green planet paradise in the east of Eden”. Down the centuries someone might have asked, what is a planet? To be answered by, Lush green can only be garden, so planet must be an old word for garden.
    That one word would have changed everything. If the people of the planet were consuming the fruits of the tree of knowledge, that could have caused several of the people who could do so to come to live upon this world. The tree of knowledge is a tree with many branches, mathematics, physics, science, chemistry, all of the ologies etc. The fruits of this knowledge being, the car, the plane, the ship, the train, the television and the computer etc. All of these cause massive pollution during manufacture. And the majority continuing to pollute after manufacture. The avid consumption of these ‘fruits’ could have caused the planet to become inhabitable. As I have mentioned, the very few people who could have left, then did so, leaving the vast majority to perish. Some however would have gone deep underground, and if they could have created a one hundred percent closed loop eco system down there, they might even still be there today, and as the good book says, doomed to spend all eternity in the fires of hell. That is, somewhere midway between the heat of the planets core and the heat of the planets surface. Then what? One of the first problems would be the age old one of ‘Lebens Raum’ (Living Space). But how would they be able to make extra space? The atmosphere above would be very dense. The oceans would have evaporated becoming the new atmosphere. The ocean beds would have split apart, due to the change in pressure and being thinner than the rest of the planets crust. This would have resulted in many tons of sulphuric acid gases and other gases pouring into its thick and heavy atmosphere changing it beyond all recognition. So how would they over come this huge problem of finding living space? If they did find a way to force earth out under pressure to the planets surface, then one would expect to see large area covered with huge mounds or domes everywhere. Do we have a planet anywhere around here like that?

    By Roy Peters (UK)

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