NASA Mars Explorer Produces Lots of Oxygen

An instrument on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been steadily producing oxygen from the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere for more than a year, giving hope for possible future manned missions.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances and conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, reflects the work of the experiment, known as MOXIE.

The study showed that since it was activated in April 2021, two months after the Perseverance landing on MarsMOXIE has succeeded in producing oxygen in seven experimental operations, in a variety of atmospheric conditions, day and night, and in different Martian seasons.

In each operation, the instrument reached its goal of producing six grams of oxygen per hour, about the same as a modest tree on Earth.

The researchers, along with NASA scientists and planners, envision a larger version of MOXIE that would be sent to Mars before a manned mission to produce oxygen at a rate equal to several hundred trees.

The system could generate enough oxygen to sustain humans alike and fuel a rocket to return astronauts to Earth.

The study’s principal investigator, Dr. Michael Hecht of MIT, said in a press release that the stable production demonstrated by MOXIE is a promising first step toward the proposed goals.

He added that the instrument’s oxygen production on Mars also represents the first demonstration of on-site “resource utilization,” which is the process of using a planet’s existing materials, in this case carbon dioxide, so as not to have to transport them from Earth.

Hecht and his coauthors at MIT were among the researchers from various institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who helped develop and operate MOXIE.

* With information from Reuters.

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