NASA Generates Oxygen on Mars, Setting Stage for Crewed Missions

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On April 20, the MOXIE device on Perseverance produced roughly 5 grams of oxygen. That’s a tiny step for NASA and its rover, but a potentially huge leap for humanity and our aspirations on Mars. This small amount of oxygen—extracted from the carbon dioxide-rich Martian atmosphere—is only enough to sustain an astronaut for about five minutes, but it’s the principle of the experiment that matters. This technology demonstration shows that it’s possible to produce oxygen on Mars, a necessary requirement for sustainably working on and departing the Red Planet.

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“Someday we hope to send people to Mars, but they will have to take an awful lot of stuff with them,” Michael Hecht, the principal investigator of the MOXIE project, explained in an email. “The single biggest thing will be a huge tank of oxygen, about 25 tonnes of it.”

Yikes—that converts to approximately 55,100 pounds, or 25,000 kg.

Some of this oxygen will be for the astronauts to breathe, but the “bulk of it” will be used for the rocket “to take the crew off the planet and start them on their journey home again,” Hecht said.

Hence the importance of the MOXIE experiment. Should we be capable of making that oxygen on Mars, it would “save a lot of money, time, and complexity,” said Hecht, but it’s a “challenging new technology that we can only really test properly if we actually do it on Mars,” and that’s “what MOXIE is for, even though it’s a very small scale model.”

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MOXIE works by separating oxygen from carbon dioxide, leaving carbon monoxide as the waste product.

“MOXIE uses electrical energy to take carbon dioxide molecules, CO2, and separate them into two other types of molecule, carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O2),” Hecht explained. “It uses a technology called electrolysis that is very similar to a fuel cell, except that a fuel cell goes the other way—it starts with fuel and oxygen and combines them to get electrical energy out.”

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When asked what surprised him most about the first test, Hecht said it was the identical performance compared to tests done on Earth.

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Source: NASA Generates Oxygen on Mars, Setting Stage for Crewed Missions

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