It has been a big week for NASA’s latest mission to Mars. Just days after the Ingenuity helicopter had its first successful flight, the Perseverance rover managed to convert some of Mars’ carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen for the first time, a massive step forward in the human exploration of the red planet.
The successful conversion was the first test of Perseverance’s MOXIE instrument, which is short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment. MOXIE had to warm up for approximately two hours in order to produce 5.4 grams of oxygen, per CNN, which would be enough oxygen for an astronaut to be able to breathe for 10 minutes. With this success, this toaster-sized instrument could be the key to humans eventually voyaging to our neighboring planet, and doesn’t have to simply be limited to the creation of oxygen.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”
Pulling off a successful mission to Mars requires a massive amount of oxygen, as it is estimated that “getting four astronauts off the Martian surface on a future mission would require approximately 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen.” Transporting that much oxygen from Earth to Mars would be virtually impossible but MOXIE makes it possible for oxygen to be produced on Mars’ surface.
Over the next two years, MOXIE is expected to produce oxygen nine more times and is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour. If it is able to reach that potential, that would be a massive step in making travel to Mars possible.