New images of the moon have revealed resources that may make extended stays on our secluded satellite more of a reality.
NASA announced Wednesday the findings from images made by the Hubble Space Telescope this summer, which showed the potential existence of oxygen-bearing minerals on the moon.
The telescope's ultraviolet-light sensitivity allowed researchers to determine the presence of ilmenite, a titanium and iron-containing oxide.
Theoretically, oxygen could be extracted from this mineral and used for sustaining life or powering rockets.
"In general, it is very difficult to extract elemental oxygen from metal-oxides," said Robert Holwerda, professor of inorganic chemistry. "I'm guessing oxygen extraction would be a major chore."
An abundance of the oxygen-containing minerals would be necessary to retrieve enough oxygen for any practical purposes, Holwerda said.
The Hubble took visible and ultraviolet photographs of the Aristarchus impact crater and the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites.
Neither humans nor lunar spacecraft have visited the Aristarchus region, one of the youngest craters and brightest regions on the moon.
Setting up some kind of oxygen-extracting plant on the moon only might be the first step astronauts would need to take to make the lunar environment more hospitable.
"There are a tremendous number of difficulties," said Susan Holtz, a physics professor who teaches classes on astronomy. "There's no water on the moon, and there's no ice on the moon except in regions that are sort of like a cave almost."
Holtz said NASA researchers might have been too quick to confirm postulations of frozen water on the moon, deep inside polar regions.
"NASA would say 'ice is there.' I would probably say 'OK, we have the possibility of ice, and we need to confirm it,'" she said.
For longer visits to the moon, something would also have to be done to accommodate for the severe temperatures.
The lack of an atmosphere on the moon to moderate temperatures leads to extremes of approximately 266 degrees Fahrenheit in sunlit areas and minus-290 degrees Fahrenheit in dark areas, without any moderate intermediates.
"The Earth has this wonderful atmosphere that blankets all of us," Holtz said. "In addition, our atmosphere block out x-rays and gamma rays and a lot of ultraviolet rays."
All of these rays, along with cosmic wind and radiation, would become more of a health concern the longer astronauts stayed on the moon.
Scientists would have to consider whether utilizing oxygen-bearing minerals on the moon would be a cost-effective way to further scientific exploration, Holtz said.
"I think it's valuable to learn it just because you can get a bigger picture about how the moon itself will affect the galaxies," said Nancy Oommen, a senior biology major from Dallas.
The high-resolution, ultraviolet images of the moon from the Hubble are the first of their kind to ever be obtained, although the telescope was not originally designed for lunar surveillance, according to a NASA release.
Deployed on Aug. 25, 1990, as a collaborative effort of NASA and the European Space Agency, the Hubble was the world's first space-based optical telescope.
The Hubble can observe ultraviolet through infrared light with its camera while orbiting the Earth at 5 miles per second.
Having the Hubble in space allows scientists to collect images that would otherwise be distorted by the Earth's atmosphere if seen from an earth-based telescope.
NASA is currently developing the successor to the Hubble, the Next Generation Space Telescope, which may be launched as early as 2008, according to the Hubble Web site.
The new telescope will have 10 times the light-gathering capabilities of the Hubble.
— The Daily Toreador