Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA/JPL-Caltech

MOXIE: Carbon Dioxide Turns Into Oxygen on Mars

Recently, Perseverance produced 5.4 grams of oxygen on Mars through an instrument named MOXIE. Can humans live on Mars with the help of this device? Let’s find out.

May 10, 2021

The NASA Mars rover, Perseverance, successfully extracted 10 minutes of breathable air last month on Mars. On the 60th Martian day of its stay, a “toaster-size” instrument known as MOXIE, Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, located within the rover, attempted, and succeeded at something that has never been done before.

Technicians in the clean room on March 21, 2019, are carefully lowering the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover. MOXIE will "breathe in" the CO2-rich atmosphere and "breathe out" a small amount of oxygen, to demonstrate a technology that could be critical for future human missions to Mars.

Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Lannom

NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Lannom

Technicians in the clean room on March 21, 2019, are carefully lowering the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover. MOXIE will "breathe in" the CO2-rich atmosphere and "breathe out" a small amount of oxygen, to demonstrate a technology that could be critical for future human missions to Mars.

96% of Mars' atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide. According to NASA, MOXIE, made of heat tolerant materials, “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.” MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour equivalent to about 20 minutes of air per hour for an astronaut on Mars.

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft.

Photo by: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mosaic of the Valles Marineris hemisphere of Mars projected into point perspective, a view similar to that which one would see from a spacecraft.

Separate from having breathable air on Mars to “live off the land,” oxygen is an important component of rocket propellant. Once astronauts land on Mars from Earth or the Moon, they will need it to travel back home. If MOXIE were to increase in size and output, it could be life changing for future space explorers, and of course, colonizing the Red Planet.

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