The unique capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope would help locate oxygen-bearing minerals on the moon critical for a future manned exploration, US space agency NASA said on Wednesday.
The moon does not have a breathable atmosphere, so oxygen-bearing minerals such as ilmenite (titanium and iron oxide) may be a potential source of oxygen for astronauts to breath or to power rockets, scientists explained.
NASA's Hubble team said the resolution and sensitivity to ultraviolet light of the telescope have allowed them to search for important oxygen-bearing minerals on the moon.
The images acquired in new observations provide scientists witha new tool to study mineral variations within the lunar crust.
As NASA plans future expeditions to the moon, such data, in combination with other measurements, will help ensure the most valuable sites are targeted for robotic and human missions, scientists said.
"These observations of the moon have been a challenging and highly successful technological achievement," said Jennifer Wiseman, program scientist for the Hubble. "The images will inform both scientific studies of lunar geology and future decisions on further lunar exploration," reports Xinhua.
Since the Moon does not have a breathable atmosphere, and spacecrafts 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 idea is to utilize resources there to reduce the costs of going to the Moon," project member Mark Robinson of Northwestern University said during the a NASA briefing today.
Other studies have found evidence for water ice near the lunar poles. While those areas might serve well for human outposts, they are not necessarily the first choices for science missions.
The Hubble team examined three lunar sites, two of which – the Apollo 15 and 17 landing sites – where soil chemistry is well known. The third was the Aristarchus crater, a "geologic wonderland" that has piqued geologists' interest for decades.
The 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 across but more than two miles deep. At only 450 million years old, it is one of the younger major features on the Moon, informs Space.com official site.