Since 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover has been exploring the barren terrain of Mars, collecting samples, and investigating the area for signs of ancient microbial life.
One of its onboard scientific instruments, MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), has even generated breathable oxygen from the planet’s thin atmosphere. This accomplishment serves as a proof-of-concept that could pave the way for future endeavors to colonize the Red Planet.
NASA still has a long way to go before such a device can produce enough air for an entire Martian colony. Since its arrival on the planet in 2021, MOXIE has generated a modest 122 grams of oxygen. To put this into perspective, that’s approximately the amount a small dog would require to breathe for ten hours.
Nevertheless, this achievement is a remarkable scientific feat, considering it was accomplished more than a hundred million miles from Earth.
“Developing technologies that allow us to utilize resources on the Moon and Mars is crucial for establishing a long-term lunar presence, creating a robust lunar economy, and supporting the initial human exploration of Mars,” stated NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
Space tourism looks a lot more feasible.
MOXIE’s performance surpassed expectations, producing twice as many grams of oxygen per hour as NASA had initially anticipated. Moreover, despite widely varying environmental conditions, it demonstrated this capability throughout the Martian year.
The instrument operates by separating one oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide atom extracted from the Martian atmosphere through a complex electrochemical process.
The harvested oxygen can potentially serve as breathable air for future astronauts on Mars. Additionally, it could be used to produce rocket fuel, potentially making future missions to the Red Planet more feasible by reducing the amount of energy that needs to be transported from Earth.
The next evolution
Researchers are now eager to follow up on this achievement with MOXIE 2.0, which could harvest oxygen and liquefy it for storage. The timeline for when such an experiment might make its way to Mars remains uncertain.
“By demonstrating this technology in real-world conditions, we’ve taken a significant step closer to a future where astronauts can ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.