One of the goals of NASA’s Mars Rover, Perseverance, is to test new technology that could support future human missions to the Red Planet.
And this week, Perseverance was successful in one major test: Creating oxygen!
Mars’ atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide, but that doesn’t cut it -- humans need oxygen to breathe, and also for rocket fuel to return home.
So, when Perseverance landed on Mars earlier this year, it brought with it a toaster-size instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment -- or “MOXIE” for short.
Here’s how it works: Carbon dioxide is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. MOXIE separates the two oxygen atoms from that carbon atom and, voila, you have oxygen!
NASA tested MOXIE a few days ago and it worked, producing about five grams of oxygen, which is about 10 minutes of breathable oxygen for an astronaut. There will be more testing done and, if a human mission to Mars comes to fruition, a much larger version of MOXIE that could produce 25 tons of oxygen would likely be a part of that mission.
NASA’s successfully landed its Mars Rover Perseverance on Feb. 18 this year near an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Perseverance is now the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars since the 1970s, and each of those spacecrafts have been from the U.S.
Over the next two years, the rover will collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life, which will eventually be retrieved by another rover and brought back to Earth by another rocket ship.