Oxygen from moondust is worth a mint

Michael Hopkin in Nature:

Bluemoon_fredHow do you fancy winning a cool quarter-of-a-million dollars? That’s the prize on offer for the astronomical alchemist who can create breathable oxygen from moondust.

The competition, unveiled this week by NASA and the Florida Space Research Institute, is an attempt to stimulate research into technologies that might help humans to colonize other worlds. Although the prize won’t quite allow the winner to breathe easily for life, the organizers hope that the hefty sum will tempt some talented chemical engineers.

The rules are simple. Entrants must build a device, within certain weight and power limits, that can extract at least five kilograms of oxygen from a sample of volcanic ash (a substitute for lunar soil) in the space of eight hours. The first team to build and demonstrate such a gadget before 1 June 2008 will claim the cash.

More here.