Since 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been exploring Mars’ desolate landscape, gathering samples and looking for evidence of prehistoric microbial life.
Even more impressively, one of its onboard research tools, called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment), has managed to produce breathing oxygen from the planet’s thin atmosphere. This achievement serves as a proof-of-concept that could open the door for further missions to colonise Mars.
A major breakthrough
Before such a machine can create enough oxygen for an entire Martian colony, NASA still has a long way to go. MOXIE has produced just 122 grammes of oxygen when it first entered the planet’s atmosphere in 2021. That’s roughly how much a small dog would need to breathe for 10 hours, to put things into perspective.
Nevertheless, given that it was performed more than 100 million miles from Earth, this accomplishment is a great scientific achievement.
“Creating a robust lunar economy, establishing a long-term lunar presence, and enabling the first human exploration of Mars require developing technologies that allow us to utilise resources on the Moon and Mars,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
Space tourism looks a lot more feasible
MOXIE performed better than expected, producing twice as much oxygen per hour as NASA had first predicted. Furthermore, it showed this capacity all through the Martian year despite the wildly shifting environmental circumstances.
The sensor works by extracting carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and then using an intricate electrochemical procedure to separate one oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide atom.
Future Mars explorers may be able to breathe the oxygen that has been gathered. Additionally, it might be utilised to make rocket fuel, thus lowering the quantity of fuel that has to be delivered from Earth and making upcoming expeditions to the Red Planet more possible.
The next evolution
Now that this feat has been accomplished, scientists are keen to build on it with MOXIE 2.0, which could not only extract oxygen but also liquefy it for storage. The exact moment when such an experiment would go to Mars is yet unknown.
According to Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, “we’ve taken a significant step closer to a future where astronauts can ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet by demonstrating this technology in real-world circumstances.”