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Mining the moon November 9, 2005

Posted by jtintle in Apollo 17, Moon, Space News.

The findings by Hubble Space Telescope support the potential existence of some unique varieties of oxygen–rich glassy soils in both the Aristarchus and Apollo 17 regions. They could be well suited for visits by robots and human explorers to learn how to live off the land on the moon.

Since the moon does not have a breathable atmosphere, and spacecraft have limited load capacities, harvesting oxygen from the soil may be critical for long-term human missions. Hubble found that the soil in the regions examined contained abundant amounts of ilmenite, a mixture of titanium, iron and oxygen.

Laboratory experiments on Earth have shown that applying certain chemical processes to terrestrial ilmenite can easily liberate oxygen and water. Water can then be turned into oxygen and hydrogen, which could also be used for rocket fuel.

The Hubble team examined three lunar sites, including the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites, where soil chemistry is well-known. The third was the Aristarchus Crater region, a “geologic wonderland” that has piqued geologists’ interest for decades.

Aristarchus Crater is the brightest feature of the Moon’s near side, nearly twice as bright as most spots on the moon and visible to the naked eye. It’s just 25 miles (40 kilometers) across but more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) deep. At only 450 million years old, it is one of the younger major features on the moon.

More importantly, it sits in a region of the moon that scientists believe was once rocked by volcanic explosions and tectonic shifts. The 2-mile gouge exposes the historical record of what went on in the region, including the history of crust and mantle formation on a young satellite.

Aristarchus Crater was the planned landing site for Apollo 18, but no human or robot has ever set foot there, making it a likely target for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as it explores the lunar surface in 2008, according to current plans. Data from that mission, combined with Hubble’s observations, will help plan the location of future robotic and human missions.

Source: Science and Space

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