A Briefcase-Sized Box Is Already Making Oxygen on Mars

SPACE01 September 2022

ByMICHELLE STARR

Photo of a sunset on Mars taken by NASA rover Spirit in 2005Photo of a sunset on Mars taken by NASA rover Spirit in 2005. (NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell)

The Martian atmosphere, in its current state, is not Earthling-friendly at all. It’s extremely thin, over 100 times less dense than Earth’s, and is made up mostly of carbon dioxide. Any humans attempting to breathe it would soon find themselves not breathing at all.

But on that dusty, dry, alien world, a small instrument, a little bigger than a briefcase, has been reliably pumping out breathable oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.

It’s the first demonstration of the processing of in situ resources for human use on another planet – establishing a way that breathable air could be generated for a human mission to the red planet.

It’s called MOXIE ( Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Experiment) and, installed in the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, it uses a process called electrolysis to split the Martian carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen.

Between February 2021, when Perseverance landed, and the end of 2021, MOXIE produced oxygen seven times – and will continue to do so, the researchers said.

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