NASA successfully extracts oxygen from simulated lunar soil in vacuum environment

This advancement may pave the way for astronauts to extract and use resources available on the moon in the future.
Kavita Verma
High-powered carbothermal and laser reactor
High-powered carbothermal and laser reactor


For the first time in a vacuum environment, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston has successfully extracted oxygen from simulated lunar soil, paving the way for the utilization of resources available on the Moon to sustain human presence and exploration. This process is known as in-situ resource utilization.

Successful test in a chamber

Using a special spherical chamber with a 15-foot diameter that allows for unclean samples to be tested, the Carbothermal Reduction Demonstration (CaRD) team performed a test. They utilized a carbothermal reactor provided by Sierra Space Corp., which was designed for NASA, to melt the lunar soil simulant and extract oxygen through the process of carbothermal reduction. The CaRD test was carried out under conditions similar to those found on the Moon, using a high-powered laser to imitate heat from a solar energy concentrator. 

Following the heating of the soil, the team successfully detected carbon monoxide with the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations (MSolo). This technology has the potential to produce oxygen multiple times its own weight annually on the moon’s surface, which would enable the establishment of a sustainable lunar economy and human presence.

Potential applications in Artemis missions and beyond

The accomplishment of this demonstration test has shown the feasibility of extracting oxygen from lunar material to provide essential resources for survival and transportation in extraterrestrial environments. The practical implications of this technology are significant for Artemis' missions and future expeditions into the solar system. NASA's ultimate aim is to establish a lasting presence on the lunar surface, and in-situ resource utilization is a critical component of achieving that goal. 

The successful extraction of oxygen from simulated lunar soil under vacuum conditions has raised the technology's technical readiness level to six, indicating its readiness for space testing. This achievement represents a significant milestone for NASA, bringing them one step closer to the establishment of sustainable human settlements on other planets.

NASA is working on developing crucial skills and tools necessary for humans and equipment to function effectively in various environments on the surfaces of the moon and other planets as part of the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII). 

The CaRD test has demonstrated technology that could be utilized in upcoming exploratory missions, opening doors to the future of space exploration. With the Artemis mission, NASA intends to set a precedent by landing the first woman and person of color on the moon's surface, creating a long-term lunar presence and paving the way for astronauts on their journey to Mars.

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