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On the about page for Project Morpheus, the possibility of converting moon dust into oxygen is mentioned:

It was manufactured and assembled at JSC and Armadillo Aerospace. Morpheus is large enough to carry 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon – for example, a humanoid robot, a small rover, or a small laboratory to convert moon dust into oxygen

I'm curious if it's theoretical or if it's something practical that has been successfully done. I'm not sure of the amount of moon dust we brought back to be able to test this sort of thing. Is this something that is a legitimately possible?

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  • $\begingroup$ Honestly, it seems like this would be a great idea; if we had storage facilities on the moon or something to consume the oxygen :). $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 5 '18 at 17:31
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Yes. Lunar regolith contains oxygen -- about 50% by weight. Specifically, you can heat (perhaps with solar energy) Ilmenite and liberate oxygen. The reaction requires hydrogen, but the hydrogen is not consumed by the process.

Specifically, the reaction is:

FeTiO3 + H2 → FeTiO2 + H2O → H2 + ½O2

Engineering a reliable system on the moon to do this is, of course, challenging but certainly viable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't any oxygen-bearing mineral produce oxygen if you heated it hot enough? $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Sep 20 '13 at 3:59
  • $\begingroup$ What's really happening here is that the ilmenite is being reduced to produce titanium and water. Whenever you reduce something, you must oxidize something else -- in this case the hydrogen. The oxygen is only liberated if you split, say via electrolysis, the water which is a by-product of the oxidation. $\endgroup$ – Erik Sep 20 '13 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, in normal chemistry you can only move it around. However, with enough heat anything will decompose. You have plenty of space for mirrors and no pesky atmosphere to mess with things, there should be no limit to how hot a spot you can create. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Sep 20 '13 at 15:09
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The technological solutions are still being tested, but it is possible. NASA's ROxygen generator is being used in Hawaii on rocks that are similar to lunar dust which Erik points out contains oxygen. roxygen

While it doesn't produce enough for a crew of 4 to survive, it is a first step in developing a solution to a critical problem.

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