NASA (Hall 3, A11) is offering $250,000 to the first team to be able to turn moon dust into breathable air.

The challenge has been set as NASA needs to develop new technologies that will give human explorers the ability to breath if they are to set up a base on the Moon or Mars.

The MoonRox Challenge, a partnership between NASA and the Florida Space Research Institute, will award the jackpot to any team that can turn simulated moon dirt into breathable air by 1 June 2008.

Sam Durrance, a former astronaut who is now director of the space research institute, says: "If we can generate it there, we don't have to bring it with us. There are ways to develop the natural resources that are there into all of the consumables we need."

Scientists say it should be possible to extract oxygen from the layer of dust and dirt coating the Moon. The goal is to design equipment that astronauts could use to breath or oxygen that could be used as a propellant.

The winning team will need to show that they can make 5kg (11 lb) of breathable oxygen within 8h using the artificial moon dust (a type of volcanic ash found in the area around the Johnson Space Center) and a power source.

Craig Steidle, the head of NASA's Exploration Systems division, says: "The use of resources on other worlds is a key element of the vision for space exploration. This challenge will reach out to inventors who can help us achieve the vision sooner."

Source: Flight Daily News