NASA Alert: Mars Rover “Perseverance” produces breathable air for the first time on the red planet with a little help from “Moxie”

Space Exploration

Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument being lowered into the belly of the Perseverance rover by technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Houston (CW39) Calling it the little robot that could is an understatement. The Mars Rover “Perseverance” has exceeded another milestone this week with help from a very special instrument.

It’s only the size of a toaster but it is powerful. It’s an experimental instrument aboard Perseverance called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or (MOXIE) created a small amount of oxygen, on the planet. The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18. So, how does it work? The easiest way to explain it… It simply converts some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars. MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”

Jim Reuter, NASA Associate Administrator STMD
NASA Mars Rover “Perseverance” and Helicopter “Ingenuity” taking a selfie

Turns out Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.

In this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen production was quite modest – about 5 grams, equivalent to about 10 minutes’ worth of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

NASA

This technology demonstration was designed to ensure the instrument survived the launch from Earth, a nearly seven-month journey through deep space, and touchdown with Perseverance on Feb. 18. MOXIE is expected to extract oxygen at least nine more times over the course of a Martian year (nearly two years on Earth). To learn more about this extraordinaire accomplishment, check out the Mars Perseverance Website .

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