NASA's Mars Rover Makes Its Own Oxygen
April 22, 2021
The U.S space agency NASA says its Perseverance rover has converted
carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Martian atmosphere to oxygen, a critical
step toward future human exploration of Mars.
Illustration of the MOXIE
instrument, depicting the elements within the instrument.
NASA on Monday said a toaster-size, experimental instrument on the rover
called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE),
produced about 5.4 grams of oxygen in an hour — enough to keep an
astronaut healthy for about 10 minutes.
NASA says in regular operation, MOXIE is designed to produce up to 10
grams of oxygen in an hour.
The space agency says MOXIE is an “exploration technology
investigation,” like the Ingenuity helicopter and other instruments
taken to Mars along with the Perseverance rover. In other words, it is
designed to test a certain technology that, if successful, will be
applied on a larger scale in future missions on the Red Planet.
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) administrator Jim
Reuter says there are still more tests for MOXIE to pass, but the
results of the initial demonstration show a lot of promise toward the
goal of one day seeing humans on Mars,
said oxygen is also a key ingredient in rocket propellant and future
Mars missions will have to produce it there to make the trip home.
NASA says MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide
molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms
through a process that involves heating them to 800 degrees Celsius. The
Martian atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide.
The agency says a hypothetical future mission would require creating
about one ton of oxygen for four astronauts to live and work on Mars for
a year. About 25 tons would be needed to create the propellant needed to
get them home.
The agency says a larger, more powerful descendant of MOXIE, weighing
about a ton, would be required to meet those needs.