NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully just made another first on planet Mars, one that may help pave the way for astronauts to explore the planet someday.
NASA’s newest six-wheeled robot on the Martian surface, included converting some of the Red Planet’s thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen.
The rover successfully used its Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument to generate oxygen from the thin, carbon dioxide-dominated Martian atmosphere for the first time.
The test took place April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the mission landed Feb. 18.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD).
“MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars.
Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.” He said.
Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.
In this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen production was quite modest – about 5 grams, equivalent to about 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.
“MOXIE isn’t just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another world,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within STMD.
It’s the first technology of its kind that will help future missions “live off the land,” using elements of another world’s environment.
It’s taking regolith, the substance you find on the ground, and putting it through a processing plant, making it into a large structure, or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the atmosphere – and converting it into oxygen.
“This process allows us to convert these abundant materials into useable things: propellant, breathable air, or, combined with hydrogen, water.” She said