The MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) experiment has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of extracting oxygen from the Martian atmosphere!
MOXIE is a device located on NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has been conducting experiments since February 2021, producing a total of 122 grams of oxygen in 16 runs. This discovery offers promising prospects for future missions to Mars.
The process of oxygen production involves the following electrolysis steps: Purified air is compressed, heated, and sent through the Solid Oxide Electrolyzer, breaking down carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen ions. The oxygen ions are then recombined into molecular oxygen (O2), which can be used either for breathing or as rocket propellant. Each MOXIE operation lasts for a few hours, generating up to 10 grams of breathable oxygen.
NASA’s Associate Administrator, Pam Melroy, emphasizes the significance of this achievement, highlighting its potential to supply future astronauts with breathable air and rocket fuel, thus supporting long-term lunar presence and human exploration campaigns on Mars.
While the production levels of MOXIE may seem minimal, it has been proven that the Martian atmosphere can be a valuable resource. Even in the worst-case scenario, MOXIE could supplement oxygen supplies, reducing the need to transport large quantities from Earth. Researchers, led by Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are now aiming to develop a comprehensive system that includes an improved oxygen extraction device, gas liquefaction capability, and a means of storing the produced oxygen.
Future missions to Mars will require significant oxygen resources. To support a team of astronauts staying on Mars for an extended period and to fuel spacecraft, approximately 500 metric tons of oxygen will be needed. While the successful MOXIE experiment provides hope for journeys to the red planet, it is just one of the many challenges that must be addressed before humans can stay on Mars for an extended duration.
In conclusion, the successful extraction of oxygen into the Martian atmosphere by MOXIE represents a significant step that could bring humans closer to the dream of becoming a multi-planetary species.