- how an off-Earth base could quickly become self-sufficient -


Resources: Dr. Phil Metzger explains what resources are known to be available on the Moon with a particular focus on the water and organics in the lunar polar ice.

Data from several spacecraft indicate that the Moon has all of the resources necessary for a lunar base to become completely Earth independent. One way of looking at the question of whether the Moon has the needed resources is to consider it from the point of view of the periodic table.


Click the above image for a larger view

Click the above image for a larger view

So, from the above two tables, we can see that we know where to go on the Moon for all of the resources needed for human survival. Here's some more details on each of the materials that a self-sustaining base would need.

It has now been well established that there is water ice in the permanently-shadowed craters at the poles of the Moon. Since there is very little tilt to the axis of the Moon, there are craters at the poles of the Moon in which sunlight never reaches. Yet, their rims have nearly continuous exposure to sunlight. Data from satellites orbiting the Moon indicate that there may be as much as 600 million cubic meters of this ice there.

Click the above image for a larger view

Water is of course composed of hydrogen and oxygen. When electrolyzed, the hydrogen and oxygen can be separated producing hydrogen as the fuel and oxygen as the oxidizer. Hydrogen is the most efficient chemical fuel possible and an excellent choice for an Earth-Moon transportation system with the lunar polar ice as the propellant depot.

It is calculated that an initial, ten-ton cargo delivery to the lunar surface consisting of about 2.5 tons of solar drapes and power transmission, two telerobotic Ice Harvester at 1.5 tons each, 0.5 tons of distillation equipment, a 0.5 ton Dexterous Telerobot, and the remaining for spare parts would be able to harvest and process the icy dirt into propellant fast enough to refuel the lunar lander in about 1.5 months. Such reflights of the reusable lander would be a very cost-effective approach to sending more hardware and later crew to the lunar surface.

By life support supplies, we're talking about things such as air and water for human consumption and use. Oxygen is the single largest element on the surface of the Moon. But instead of extracting it from rocks, oxygen from a very small portion of the water being electrolyzed for propellant could be used for breathing. That O2 would be consumed by the human and animal bodies and CO2 would be produced. But that CO2 would in turn be used by the plants which produces O2. Nitrogen is a buffer gas in air making up 79% of what we breath. But our body doesn't actually consume it. NASA's 2009 LCROSS mission showed the presence of nitrogen-containing compounds which, as a side stream of propellant production, would me more than sufficient to replace the small amount of losses such as from airlocks.

NASA's 2009 LCROSS mission found a variety of organic chemicals within the icy dirt inside the permanently-shadowed Cabeus Crater. If telerobotic systems were to be extracting water from the lunar ice at about six flights per year, it is calculated that the organic side-stream would result in about 7.2 metric tons of organics each year. For a permanent base which recycles its organics, this amount would be far more than enough to support those recycling losses.

From the Apollo program, it was found that about 1% of the lunar highlands (like we find at the lunar poles) are unoxidized nickel-iron metals. If separated using magnets or another process, melted using concentrated sunlight and induction heating, its dross removed, and cast into blocks and molds, rolled into sheet metal, drawn into wires, and sprayed into powder for 3D printers, then these parts could be available prior to crew arrival. It has been estimated that tens or even hundreds of tons of such metal parts could be available when the Initial Crew arrives. As the Crew maintains the metal-extracting autonomous robots, the metal production would easily exceed the amount necessary to support an indefinitely growing base.

From the Apollo samples and satellite imaging, other metals have been identified including aluminum, titanium, calcium, magnesium, chromium, manganese, and zinc. Unfortunately, copper is pretty rare and substitute metals, phytomining, or coppery payloads might be necessary.

Plants need CO2, nitrates, potassium, and phosphorus as their major nutrients. The carbon in the CO2 was detected in NASA's 2009 LCROSS mission. Whereas the amount of carbon on the Moon is small, the amount of carbon lost after recycling the organic plant material is also small. The potassium and nitrates can come from specific KREEP rocks which the Apollo program found and brought back to Earth.

Micronutrient elements needed by people can be found in plants and plants need a few extra elements in addition. These include the electrolytes sodium, chloride, and potassium as well as magnesium, calcium, chromium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc, selenium, molybdenum, and iodine. Between the highland regolith, mare basalt, and a type of rock called KREEP, these elements are known to exist on the Moon. The processes for extracting these elements have been long known from chemical and physical processes.

The primary component of glass is silicon which is very prevalent in rocks on the Moon. Ceramics uses clay which is a hydrated (water) mineral. As such, hardware often made of ceramics would best be made of other materials (e.g. a metal toilet) so as to reserve the water for other uses.

Silicon is useful for both solar panels as well as for electronics. As mentioned above, it is very prevalent in certain, readily-available minerals on the Moon. To extract the silicon, a process such as molten electrolysis could be used.

All of the elements needed for human survival is present on the Moon.

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