Lunar Soil: The Key to Breathing in Space- Shayla Wilhelm

Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Launch Crawler
Shayla Wilhelm standing in front of the Crawler Transporter.

If you can dream it, you can do it. Shayla Wilhelm saw the frothy sea of the Milky Way as she grew up in a small town in New York. Using a telescope, Wilhelm saw stars and planets shining everywhere across the sky. After realizing how much she loved what she saw in the sky, she ended up seeing a future in aerospace engineering. 

Oxygen in Space 

If astronauts on the moon can harness the oxygen under their feet, sustaining a human presence on the moon may not be so difficult after all,” Wilhelm said. Currently, Wilhelm is a junior at the Florida Institute of Technology where she is majoring in Aerospace Engineering. As a former NASA intern at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, she worked on the Molten Regolith Electrolysis (MRE) Project. 

The purpose of the MRE Project is to create oxygen on the Moon and to use it in astronaut tanks. By taking the soil on the Moon, Wilhelm would then melt it and run an electric current through it. This would split apart the metal oxides into molten metal and oxygen. After this process, the metal would then sink, allowing the oxygen to be separated, harvested, and eventually purified and distributed. 

This process is potentially an important step in setting up long-term research centers on the moon and beyond. 

Internship Takeaway 

As an intern, Wilhelm had a very hard time to describe an “average” day while at NASA. While she spent every single day differently, she is grateful that her days as an intern was always a unique experience. From staying in the lab and analyzing data, to working in the machine shop and getting her hands dirty, Wilhelm would always be excited and feel lucky enough to take on these new and innovative tasks every single day. Wilhelm also got the opportunity to expand upon her software skills, improve her technical writing, and more. 

Have you ever dreamed of working with NASA? Check out our website for more opportunities and information. Also, feel free to read more exciting stories such as Andrew Hoang, another former NASA intern who worked on parachute landings! 

Grace Pham/ NASA Johnson Space Center