There is a device on Mars the size of a microwave oven that works wonders. NASA reported this week that it is conducting a series of experiments using a device called “MOXIE, which has already managed to generate oxygen around 16 times aboard the Perseverance rover. “The instrument proved to be much more successful than its developers expected,” the US space agency said in a statement.
MOXIE arrived on Mars along with Perseverance, the spacecraft that landed on the Martian surface in 2021. The name stands for “Mars In-Situ Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment”. The device was built by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and NASA believes it has the potential to transform future space missions.
Since testing began, MOXIE has been able to produce a total of 122 grams of oxygen. It is equivalent to what a small dog breathes in 10 hours. It produced an average of 12 grams of oxygen per hour, double the original target.
NASA also stated that the degree of purity achieved was 98% and sometimes even better. The last test took place on August 7, when MOXIE produced 9.8 grams of oxygen on Mars. All technical requirements were met, and the device worked under various conditions. All of this will serve as input for developers to continue perfecting this technology.
Oxygen production on Mars and future space missions
NASA said that when the first astronauts land on Mars, they may owe the air they breathe and the rocket fuel to bring them home to MOXIE. “This is the first demonstration of a technology that humans could use to survive and get off the red planet, the agency explained.
One of the key issues for expanding space exploration is resource extraction. Oxygen is not only necessary for the astronauts’ survival but also for the production of fuel. For example, industrial amounts of oxygen would be needed to power a spacecraft carrying a manned mission back to Earth.
MOXIE creates molecular oxygen through an electrochemical process that separates an oxygen atom from each molecule of carbon dioxide pumped up from Mars thin atmosphere. As these gases flow through the system, they are analyzed for purity and the amount of oxygen produced.
The following steps
Next on the list is not building MOXIE 2.0. The team, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained that the idea is to use the results of these tests to build a large-scale system that includes an oxygen generator like MOXIE and can also store that oxygen.
“Instead of bringing large amounts of oxygen to Mars, future astronauts could live off land,” said the Martian. notes NASA. The agency insists that exploiting the surface resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to establishing a long-term human lunar presence and planning human exploration on Mars.
Perseverance’s mission to Mars also includes searching for signs of ancient microbial life. NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency, plans to send more spacecraft to Mars in the future to collect the sealed surface samples it has collected from the rover and bring them back to Earth for detailed analysis.