Nasa has managed to generate oxygen on Mars in a breakthrough that could change the future of human space exploration.
An oven-sized device on the Perseverance rover called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), has generated enough oxygen to sustain a small dog for 10 hours.
‘MOXIE’s impressive performance shows that it is feasible to extract oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere – oxygen that could help supply breathable air or rocket propellant to future astronauts,’ said Nasa Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
‘Developing technologies that let us use resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to build a long-term lunar presence, create a robust lunar economy, and allow us to support an initial human exploration campaign to Mars.’
Since Perseverance landed on Mars in 2021, MOXIE has generated a total of 122 grams of oxygen.
At its most efficient, the device was able to produce 12 grams of oxygen an hour at 98% purity or better.
On its 16th and final run last week, the instrument made 9.8 grams of oxygen.
MOXIE produces molecular oxygen through an electrochemical process that separates one oxygen atom from each molecule of carbon dioxide pumped in from Mars’ thin atmosphere.
As these gases flow through the system, they’re analyzed to check the purity and quantity of the oxygen produced.
‘By proving this technology in real-world conditions, we’ve come one step closer to a future in which astronauts “live off the land” on the Red Planet,’ said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations, at Nasa.
This was the first demonstration of technology humans could use to survive on and leave the Red Planet.
In addition to sustaining life, an oxygen-producing system could be used as a source of rocket fuel for astronauts for their return trip home.
Rather than bringing large quantities of oxygen with them to Mars, future astronauts could live off the land, using materials they find on the planet’s surface to survive.
The next step for researchers would be to create a full-scale system that includes an oxygen generator like MOXIE and a way to liquefy and store that oxygen.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of Nasa’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.