The Perseverance rover has created a breath of contemporary air on Mars. An experimental machine on the NASA rover cut up carbon dioxide molecules into their element elements. This created sufficient breathable oxygen to maintain an individual for about 10 minutes. It was additionally sufficient oxygen to make tiny quantities of rocket gas.

The toaster-size instrument that did that is known as MOXIE. The acronym stands for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is the first gasoline within the ambiance on Mars. MOXIE’s job is to interrupt the chemical bonds in CO2, releasing oxygen.

The machine works like “an electrical tree,” says Michael Hecht. By that, he means it breathes in CO2 and breathes out oxygen. Hecht is MOXIE’s principal investigator. He works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge.

“When we burn anything, gas in the car or a log in the fireplace, most of what we’re burning is oxygen,” Hecht says. On Earth, we take all that oxygen with no consideration. “We don’t think about it.” But on Mars, oxygen is basically sure up in CO2.

MOXIE arrived on Mars together with Perseverance this previous February 18. Two months later, MOXIE warmed to about 800° Celsius (1,472° Fahrenheit). It then ran lengthy sufficient to supply 5 grams of oxygen. That’s not sufficient to breathe for very lengthy. But the primary purpose to make oxygen on Mars isn’t for respiration, Hecht factors out. It’s to make gas for the return journey to Earth.

Future astronauts must both carry oxygen with them or make it on Mars. A rocket highly effective sufficient to elevate just a few astronauts off the Red Planet’s floor would want about 25 metric tons (27.5 U.S. tons) of oxygen. That’s an excessive amount to pack alongside.

MOXIE is a prototype for the system astronauts may in the future use to make rocket gas. When working at full energy, MOXIE could make about 10 grams of oxygen per hour. Powered by Perseverance, it’ll run for about one Martian day at a time. Hecht notes {that a} scaled-up model, nevertheless, may run nonstop for the 26 months earlier than astronauts arrive.

MOXIE schematic
This diagram reveals elements that go into MOXIE, an instrument designed to transform CO2 in Mars’ ambiance into breathable air for future astronauts. The instrument was ferried to the Red Planet in 2020. O2 stands for oxygen, CO for carbon monoxide, CO2 for carbon dioxide, and SOXE for Solid Oxide Electrolyzer.NASA/JPL-Caltech

MOXIE can’t run full time now as a result of it might use an excessive amount of Perseverance’s energy. The rover has different devices to run because it goes about its science mission, which is to search for signs of past life on Mars. MOXIE will get an opportunity to run no less than 9 more occasions over the following Martian year (about two Earth years).

The success of this technique may set the stage for an everlasting analysis station on Mars, one thing Hecht wants to see. “That’s not something I expect to see in my lifetime,” he admits. Still, he says, “MOXIE brings it closer by a decade.”


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