NASA’s rover Perseverance creates oxygen on Mars

This illustration shows NASA’s Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars.

NASA’s rover Perseverance has just successfully made another first on the planet Mars, which may one day pave the way for astronauts to explore the planet.

NASA’s latest six-point robot on the surface of Mars involved converting some of the thin atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide on the Red Planet into oxygen.

For the first time, Rover has successfully used its Mars Oxygen In-Site (MOXIE) resource utilization instrument to generate oxygen from a thin Martian atmosphere dominated by carbon dioxide.

Technicians from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utility Resource Experiment (MOXIE) instrument into the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The test took place on April 20, the 60th day of Mars, or salt, since the mission landed on February 18.

“This is a crucial first step in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Administration (STMD).

“MOXIE still has work to do, but the results of this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move towards our goal of seeing people on Mars one day.

Oxygen is not just what we breathe. Rocket fuel is dependent on oxygen, and future researchers will depend on the production of propellant on Mars to travel home. ” He said.

Mars’ atmosphere is 96% carbon dioxide. MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which consist of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. The waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere.

Illustration of a MOXIE instrument, showing the elements within the instrument.
Credit: NASA / JPL

In this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen production was quite modest – about 5 grams, which is approximately 10 minutes of airy oxygen for an astronaut. MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.

“MOXIE is not just the first instrument to produce oxygen in another world,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at STMD.

It is the first technology of its kind to help future missions “live off the land”, using elements of another world environment.

It takes regolith, a substance you find on earth, and goes through a processing plant, turning it into a large structure or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the atmosphere – and turning it into oxygen.

“This process allows us to turn these abundant materials into useful things: propellant, breathable air or, in combination with hydrogen, water.” She said