NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover continued its successful and unique activity of converting carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere into oxygen. This is the first time a man-made machine has performed such a process on a planet other than Earth. Breathable oxygen on Mars made by NASA has been considered the most tremendous activity until now.
We’ve made oxygen on Mars! The @MOXIEonMars instrument onboard @NASAPersevere has successfully converted CO2 into breathable oxygen. Congrats to team members at @MITHaystack, @MITAeroAstro, and elsewhere who made this possible! https://t.co/uZ2FrpRnbt pic.twitter.com/igJJYhyB8N
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) April 21, 2021
Jim Reuters, a co-founder of the Mars Exploration Project, said on Wednesday that “This was the first major attempt to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars.” The operation took place on the 20th of April, NASA scientists said. They hope that pursuing such a plan could pave the way for human exploitation of the surface of Mars.
The project to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars, if successful on a larger scale, will not only meet the needs of future astronauts for this vital element but will also meet the need to carry large amounts of oxygen for rocket return trips to Earth.
MOXIE on Mars
One of NASA’s goals for the Perseverance rover is to extract oxygen from Mars’ thin atmosphere. A small device called a MOXIE, which stands for “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment,” went to the Red Planet with endurance and on April 20, the 60th day of Mars, it was able to convert carbon dioxide into usable oxygen for the first time.
This technology has just been developed and can make its way from science fiction to science fiction. The oxygen produced can be used as rocket fuel to launch future astronauts to Mars and maybe one day it could be used to breathe on Mars.
MOXIE, like MEDA, a portable weather station, has been sent to Mars to test the technology. MOXIE is the first important step in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, its initial results are very promising. Oxygen is not just for our breathing, we even need oxygen for rocket fuel. Future Mars probes will need this technology to produce oxygen to return to Earth. Oxygen plays a key role for both rockets and astronauts.
Oxygen: The only survival’s element
The requirement of more oxygen than the fuel itself to activate the fuel inside the rocket is the current demand. To get 4 astronauts to Mars, 7 tons of rocket fuel and 15 tons of oxygen is needed.
At the same time, astronauts need much less oxygen to work and breathe for a year on Mars and they may need only one ton of oxygen all year round. Carrying 25 tons of oxygen to Mars to return to work is exhausting and using a one-ton oxygen converter – which is the larger and more powerful version of the MOXIE – is much cheaper and even more practical.
How MOXIE works?
96% of Mars’ atmosphere is made up of carbon dioxide and MOXIE’s job is to separate the oxygen atoms from the carbon dioxide and turn it into an oxygen molecule. In this reaction, carbon monoxide is produced as a by-product and released into the Martian atmosphere.
In another first on Mars, an instrument on NASA's Perseverance rover has made oxygen out of carbon dioxide sucked in from the planet's atmosphere.
— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) April 22, 2021
The conversion process requires a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius. MOXIE is made of heat-resistant materials to produce this heat. These parts consist of nickel alloy 3D printing pistons and as the gases in them flow, these pistons have the task of cooling and heating these gases. MOXIE is covered with a layer of gold that protects it from infrared waves and reflects them. It also damages other parts of the body.
Initial experiment by NASA’s Rover
In his first experiment, MOXIE produced 5 grams of breathable oxygen on Mars, which is roughly equivalent to 10 minutes of astronaut breathing and at its maximum capacity, it can produce 10 grams of oxygen per hour. MOXIE was designed to measure its health and durability when travelling to Mars and landing on the planet. The device is expected to perform at least nine more oxygen extraction experiments on a Martian year (approximately two Earth years).
Three phases of MOXIE’s experiments
In the first phase, the functions of this tool are reviewed.
In the second phase, the oxygen conversion process takes place in different atmospheric conditions. (Different hours of the day or different seasons)
In the third phase, the situation becomes more difficult and the experiments are performed at three different temperatures or even higher.
In addition to being the first tool to produce breathable oxygen on Mars, MOXIE is the first of its kind to help future missions survive on the target planet with elements from the same environment.