Toaster-Size Box Makes Oxygen on Mars

MOXIE offers hope of clearing a big hurdle for manned missions
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2022 12:32 PM CDT
NASA Gizmo Is Able to Make Oxygen on Mars
This April 6, 2021, image shows the Perseverance Mars rover, foreground, and the Ingenuity helicopter about 13 feet behind.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

The comparisons are small scale at the moment: A device the size of a toaster generated oxygen comparable to that of a modest tree. But given that this took place on Mars, the implications are of the large-scale variety. In a study published in Science Advances, NASA researchers report that the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) was able to turn carbon dioxide—which accounts for 96% of the Mars atmosphere—into breathable oxygen, reports MOXIE has done so seven times since April 2021, each time converting the CO2 into about 6 grams of oxygen per hour, per CNN.

"This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body, and transforming them chemically into something that would be useful for a human mission," says researcher Jeffrey Hoffman in a news release from MIT. "It's historic in that sense." The Washington Post spells out the significance: Before humans can explore Mars in person, NASA has to figure out how to supply them with oxygen. The ongoing MOXIE experiment—part of the Perseverance rover mission—suggests a blueprint for doing so.

The process would have to be scaled up by a factor of several hundred times, meaning NASA would have to send much larger devices to the planet ahead of a human mission, per CNN. But that is both feasible and necessary: In addition to helping humans breathe while on the planet, oxygen also would be needed as a fuel propellant for the trip home. "To support a human mission to Mars, we have to bring a lot of stuff from Earth," Hoffman tells the Post. "But dumb old oxygen? If you can make it there, go for it—you're way ahead of the game." (Read more Mars stories.)

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