The perseverance rover just produced oxygen on Mars

The rover successfully turned some of the abundant carbon dioxide on Mars into oxygen on Tuesday as the first test of its MOXIE instrument. The name MOXIE is short for the Mars Resource Usage Experiment.

After heating for about two hours, MOXIE produced 5.4 grams of oxygen. This is enough to support an astronaut for about 10 minutes.

The tool is about the size of a toaster and is a technological demonstration installed on the rover. If this experiment is successful, it could help human exploration of Mars in the future.

The thin Martian atmosphere has 96% carbon dioxide, which is not very helpful for people who breathe oxygen.

Something that can efficiently turn carbon dioxide into oxygen could help in more ways than one. Larger and better versions of something like MOXIE in the future could convert and store the oxygen needed for rocket fuel, as well as provide life support systems with breathable air.

The instrument works by splitting carbon dioxide molecules, which include a carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. It separates oxygen molecules and emits carbon monoxide as a residual product.

Heat-tolerant materials such as a gold coating and airgel were used to make the instrument, as this conversion process requires temperatures that reach 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit. These materials prevent heat from radiating and damaging any aspect of the rover.

Mars did not lose all its water at once, based on the discovery of the Curiosity rover

“This is a critical first step in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” Jim Reuter, associate director of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

“MOXIE has more work to do, but the results of this technological demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing people on Mars. Oxygen is not just what we breathe. The rocket engine depends on oxygen. and future explorers will depend on fuel production on Mars to make the journey home. “

Perseverance will do things no rover has ever tried on Mars - and will pave the way for humans.

To launch four astronauts from the surface of Mars, about 15,000 kilograms of rocket fuel and 55,000 kilograms of oxygen would be needed. Living on the surface of Mars, space explorers would consume much less.

“Astronauts who spend a year on the surface are likely to use a metric ton between them,” said Michael Hecht, principal investigator for MOXIE at the Haystack Observatory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a statement.

Transporting so much oxygen from Earth to Mars would be incredibly difficult and expensive and would mean less space on the spacecraft for other needs.

Why Mars?  The fascination for exploring the red planet

However, an oxygen converter that weighs about 1 ton – a large and powerful future generation of MOXIE – could produce the necessary oxygen.

For future tests, MOXIE will likely generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour. The tool will perform nine more tests over the next two years, and the research team will use the data to design future generations of MOXIE.

Same as the goals set helicopter ingenuity, which is also a technological demonstration, the purpose is for MOXIE to exceed the limits of the instrument.

The Mars Perseverance rover takes selfie photos with an ingenious helicopter

In the first phase, the team will evaluate how the instrument works. A second phase will test MOXIE under different conditions, such as time of day or different seasons. And during the third and final phase, “we will push the envelope” – trying new modes of operation or introducing “new wrinkles, such as a race in which we compare operations at three or more different temperatures,” he said. Hecht.

Technology like MOXIE could help future astronauts live essentially offshore and use the resources around them.

“MOXIE is not just the first instrument to produce oxygen in another world,” Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

“It takes regolith, the substance you find on earth, and I put it through a processing plant, turning it into a big structure or taking in carbon dioxide – most of the atmosphere – and turning it into oxygen. This process allows us to turn these abundant materials into usable things: propellant, breathable air or, combined with hydrogen, water. “

The positive results of this first test take the missions to Mars one step closer to the landing of humans on the red planet.