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

Chemistry: Dr. Jeff Greenblatt describes what chemicals could be made from the volatiles at the lunar poles with a special emphasis on organic polymers.

In order to produce the hardware that a self-sustaining base is going to need, there will be several chemical processes which will need to be incorporated given. These processes will need to take material from lunar resources and chemically transform them into useful forms.

Plants will need carbon dioxide for food, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) fertilizer, and a number of micronutrients. NASA's 2009 LCROSS mission detected carbon dioxide in the icy lunar dirt in a permanently-shadowed, polar crater. But there were a number of other carbon-containing compounds found in the spectrum including methane and carbon monoxide. These could be chemically converted into carbon monoxide for plant food. Similarly, NH3 and NH2 was discovered in the LCROSS results. Those could also be chemically converted into nitrates which plants use to produce proteins. The micronutrients which the plants require are present in the lunar dirt and can be absorbed into the plants tissue through its roots and so don't require the crew to conduct chemical processes for those.

The chemicals found in the LCROSS results could be utilized as a starting point for an extensive list of organic chemicals. But it is the polymers which will be the main focus of the organic chemistry. There are a finite set of common polymers which we will want to produce. These include:

  • Polyethylene
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Polypropylene
  • Polystyrene
  • Polycarbonate
  • Poly(methyl methylacrylate)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate
  • Polyoxymethylene
  • Nylon
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene

Given the relatively limited amount of carbon and nitrogen in the lunar polar ice, metals will need to be used in place of organic materials as much as possible. So, instead of wood or plastic furniture, those would need to be made of metals. There are some metal fabrics but clothing would likely have to use the precious organic chemicals.

Lunar resources provide all of the chemicals necessary for a self-sustaining colony.

Next: Artificial Gravity