The thing about sending humans to Mars (we’re going, okay?) is that we have to breathe there somehow. We can’t take along enough oxygen for a year and just hope for the best. Perseverance, NASA’s most recent Mars rover, took along MOXIE, or the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, along with it to try and solve this little issue.
Perseverance pays off again
And solve it it might. NASA has announced that MOXIE, the toaster-sized addition to the Mars rover, has done was it was intended to do and converted some of Mars’ carbon dioxide-based atmosphere into oxygen. Specifically, NASA’s turned a portion of the Martian atmosphere into about five grams of oxygen.
Perseverance’s successful test took place on 20 April and sets the stage for further experiments, which could lead to mankind converting and storing oxygen to use as fuel (to get back to Earth) and for breathing purposes (so we can stay on Mars). How it works is that MOXIE heats carbon dioxide to 800° Celsius, a process that liberates carbon monoxide and oxygen.
The oxygen is stored and carbon monoxide is released into the atmosphere of Mars, such as it is. We’re going to have to do that a bunch, with a much larger version of MOXIE. But not yet. In order to get a rocket off Mars, mankind would need seven metric tons of fuel and 25 metric tons of oxygen — which we’ll have to gather on the planet itself.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “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.”