An experimental instrument the size of a roaster on board the vehicle called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) has succeeded in getting NASA’s Perseverance rover to convert carbon dioxide from Mars into oxygen .
The test took place on April 20 , the sixtieth Martian day, or sun, since the mission landed on February 18 in Jezero crater .
In this first operation, MOXIE’s oxygen production was around 5 grams , equivalent to about 10 minutes of breathable oxygen for an astronaut.
The atmosphere of Mars is 96% carbon dioxide . MOXIE works by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. A waste product, carbon monoxide, is emitted into the Martian atmosphere. The conversion process requires high levels of heat to reach a temperature of approximately 800 degrees Celsius.
Transporting 25 tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be a daunting task. Hauling a one-ton oxygen converter, a larger and more powerful descendant of MOXIE that could produce those 25 tons, would be much more economical and practical. Jim Reuter , Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD):
This is a critical first step in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars. MOXIE has more work to do, but the results of this technology demonstration are promising as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen is not just what we breathe. The rocket’s propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on propellant production on Mars to make the trip home.
MOXIE is expected to extract at least nine times more oxygen over the course of a Martian Year (nearly two years on Earth).