Maintaining a colony on the Moon will require the use of lunar resources to reduce the number of launches necessary to transport goods from the Earth. It may be possible to alter lunar materials to produce minerals or other materials that can be used for applications in life support systems at a lunar base. For example, mild hydrothermal alteration of lunar basaltic glasses can produce special-purpose minerals (e.g., zeolites, smectites, and tobermorites) that in turn may be used in life support, construction, waste renovation, and chemical processes. Zeolites, smectites, and tobermorites have a number of potential applications at a lunar base. Zeolites are hydrated aluminosilicates of alkali and alkaline earth cations that possess infinite, three-dimensional crystal structures. They are further characterized by an ability to hydrate and dehydrate reversibly and to exchange some of their constituent cations, both without major change of structure. Based on their unique absorption, cation exchange, molecular sieving, and catalytic properties, zeolites may be used as a solid support medium for the growth of plants, as an adsorption medium for separation of various gases (e.g., N2 from O2), as catalysts, as molecular sieves, and as a cation exchanger in sewage-effluent treatment, in radioactive waste disposal, and in pollution control. Smectites are crystalline, hydrated 2:1 layered aluminosilicates that also have the ability to exchange some of their constituent cations. Like zeolites, smectites may be used as an adsorption medium for waste renovation, as adsorption sites for important essential plant growth cations in solid support plant growth mediums (i.e., 'soils'), as cation exchangers, and in other important application. Tobermorites are cystalline, hydrated single-chained layered silicates that have cation-exchange and selectivity properties between those of smectites and most zeolites. Tobermorites may be used as a cement in building lunar base structures, as catalysts, as media for nuclear and hazardous waste disposal, as exchange media for waste-water treatment, and in other potential applications. Special-purpose minerals synthesized at a lunar base may also have important applications at a space station and for other planetary missions. New technologies will be required at a lunar base to develop life support systems that are self-sufficient, and the use of special-purpose minerals may help achieve this self-sufficiency.
LUNAR AND PLANETARY EXPLORATION
The Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, Volume 2; p 385-391