- NASA has converted carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen.
- Its Mars Oxygen in-situ resource utilization test instrument, or ‘MOXIE’, extracted 5 grams of pure, breathable oxygen, equivalent to 10 minutes worth of respiration per astronaut.
- Adequate oxygen supply is considered important for human exploration of the Red Planet.
- The instrument is on the Perseverance Rover, which landed on Mars in February after a seven-month journey from Earth.
NASA has recorded another alien planet in its latest voyage to Mars: the U.S. space agency said Wednesday that it is converting carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into pure, breathable oxygen.
The unprecedented extraction of oxygen from the thin air on Mars was achieved on Tuesday by a six-wheeled science rover called Perseverance, which landed on the Red Planet on February 18, after a seven-month journey from Earth. read more
In its first operation, Mars produced a toaster-sized instrument called the MOXIE, abbreviated for the in-situ resource utility test, which produced about 5 grams of oxygen, which equals about 10 minutes worth of breathing per astronaut, NASA said.
Although the initial release was modest, this achievement was the first to extract natural resources from another planet’s environment for direct use by humans.
“MOXIE is not the first device to produce oxygen in another world,” said Trudeau Cortes, director of technical demonstrations inside NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. He called future travels the first technology to help another planet “live off the land.”
The instrument works by electrolysis, which uses intense heat to separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which make up about 95% of Mars’ atmosphere.
The remaining 5% is the atmosphere of Mars, which contains only 1% of the densest Earth, primarily molecular nitrogen and argon. Oxygen has the lowest trace levels on Mars.
But the ample supply to the Red Planet’s human exploration is considered important as a sustainable source of breathable air for astronauts and the raw material needed for rocket fuel to fly them home.
The amount needed to propel rockets into space from Mars is particularly threatening.
According to NASA, getting four astronauts from the surface of Mars will take about 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel, including 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen.
Carrying a ton of oxygen converter to Mars is more practical than trying to carry 25 tons of oxygen from Earth in tanks, Massachusetts Institute of Technology MOXIE chief researcher Michael Hatch said in a NASA news release.
Hekt said one metric ton of oxygen will last a year for astronauts living and working on Mars.
MOXIE is designed to produce up to 10 grams per hour as proof of concept, and NASA says scientists plan to run the engine at least nine times under different conditions and speeds over the next two years.
The first oxygen replacement flight came a day after NASA landed the historic first controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet by successfully taking off and landing a miniature robotic helicopter on Mars. read more
Like MOXIE, the so-called ingenious double-rotor went diligently to Mars, the primary purpose of which was to search for fossils of ancient microbes that may have thrived on Mars billions of years ago.