NASA first recorded another extraterrestrial on its latest mission to Mars: converting carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into pure, breathable oxygen, the US space agency said Wednesday.
The unprecedented extraction of oxygen, literally out of nowhere on Mars, was achieved on Tuesday by an experimental device aboard Perseverance, a six-wheeled scientific rover that landed on the Red Planet last February. 18 after a seven-month trip from Earth.
In its first activation, the toaster-sized instrument nicknamed MOXIE – short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment – produced about five grams of oxygen, equivalent to about 10 minutes of breathing for an astronaut, NASA said.
Although initial production was modest, the enterprise marked the first experimental extraction of a natural resource from another planet’s environment for direct human use.
“MOXIE isn’t just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another world,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement. He called it the first technology of its kind to help future missions “live off the land” of another planet.
The instrument uses extreme heat to separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which makes up about 95 percent of the atmosphere on Mars.
The remaining five percent of Mars’ atmosphere, which is only about one percent as dense on Earth, is made up mostly of molecular nitrogen and argon. Oxygen exists on Mars in negligible quantities.
Abundant supply is considered critical to eventual human exploration of the Red Planet, both as a sustainable source of breathing air for astronauts and as a necessary ingredient for rocket fuel to fly them home.
What astronauts need
The volumes required to launch rockets into space from Mars are particularly daunting.
According to NASA, getting four astronauts off the Martian surface would require about seven tons of rocket fuel, combined with 25 tons of oxygen.
Transporting a one-tonne oxygen conversion machine to Mars is more practical than trying to transport 25 tons of oxygen in tanks from Earth, MOXIE principal investigator Michael Hecht, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in the press release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NASA.
Astronauts living and working on Mars would require perhaps a ton of oxygen between them to last a full year, Hecht said.
MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams per hour as proof of concept, and scientists plan to run the machine at least nine more times over the next two years under varying conditions and speeds, NASA said.
The first oxygen conversion rush occurred the day after NASA made the first historic motor-controlled flight of an airplane to another planet with a successful takeoff and landing of a miniature robotic helicopter to Mars.
Like MOXIE, the twin-rotor helicopter dubbed Ingenuity arrived on Mars with Perseverance, whose main mission is to look for fossilized traces of ancient microbes that may have flourished on Mars billions of years ago.