NASA Mars Mission: Perseverance rover produces oxygen on Red Planet; Why the feat is important

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April 23, 2021 3:12 PM

The MOXIE or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment carried out its first operation on April 20.

The MOXIE acts much like a tree, taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA Perseverance Mars Mission: Back in February, NASA had successfully landed the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars, and since then, the space agency has been adding new feathers to its cap. Its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first spacecraft in history to undertake a controlled flight on another planet, and so far, the helicopter has completed not just one but two controlled flights successfully, with the second one being more challenging than the first. Now, the US space agency has announced that a device fitted on Perseverance was able to produce oxygen with the help of the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet, another feat that has been carried out for the first time ever.

The scientific community has been left overjoyed at this achievement, because this technology has the potential to aid future crewed missions as the astronauts would be able to breathe in outer space and then return to the Earth, according to a report in IE.

Production of oxygen on Mars

The MOXIE or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment carried out its first operation on April 20, and during the operation, it was able to use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Mars to produce 5 grams of oxygen, which is sufficient to support an astronaut for 10 minutes. The report added that about 96% of the Martian atmosphere is made of carbon dioxide, while oxygen is only about 0.13%, a stark contrast to the 21% of Earth’s atmosphere.

The MOXIE acts much like a tree, taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. For this, it separates the atoms of oxygen from carbon dioxide molecules, the report said. This is done at a temperature of a whopping 800 degrees Celsius, and during the process, carbon monoxide is also produced. This gas is released into the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment has been designed to produce up to 10 grams of oxygen in an hour, and its first successful run was meant to demonstrate that it had survived the launch from Earth and the landing on Mars. Now, in the coming two years, MOXIE would likely produce oxygen nine more times. However, it must be kept in mind that MOXIE is merely a demonstration of the technology, and in order to sustain human missions, the actual device would have to be around 100 times its size.

Importance of the operation

This operation is important because sufficient oxygen on Mars can aid future crewed missions to the Red Planet, as the oxygen would not only help astronauts breathe but also serve as fuel for the rockets to take off from the neighboring planet and return to the Earth.

The space agency said that in future, for a mission of four astronauts to take off of the Martian surface, 7 metric tons of rocket fuel and 25 metric tons of oxygen would be needed. On the contrary, astronauts working on the Red Planet would only require about one metric ton of oxygen. Carrying 25 metric tons of oxygen for a return journey from Mars to Earth would be a humongous task, scientists say, which is why it would be easier if liquefied oxygen were to somehow become available on Mars. And this is where MOXIE’s role becomes important.

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