American space agency NASA on Thursday announced that its oxygen-generating experiment that accompanied Perseverance rover has successfully generated oxygen on the Mars. MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment), developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has generated oxygen for the 16th and final time abroad, NASA said in its blog.
NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said that MOXIE’s performance shows that oxygen can be generated from Mars’ atmosphere. "MOXIE’s impressive performance shows that it is feasible to extract oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere – oxygen that could help supply breathable air or rocket propellant to future astronauts,” said Melroy.
“Developing technologies that let us use resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to build a long-term lunar presence, create a robust lunar economy, and allow us to support an initial human exploration campaign to Mars,” she added.
How MOXIE produced oxygen
MOXIE has been generating oxygen abroad the Perseverance rover since its landing in 2021.
Oxygen is produced through an electrochemical process that separates one oxygen atom from each molecule of carbon dioxide pumped in from Mars's thin atmosphere. They are analysed to check the purity and quantity of the oxygen produced once these gases flow through the system.
According to NASA, a total of 122 grams of oxygen was generated by MOXIE, which is twice as much as NASA's original goals for the instrument. It also added that the oxygen produced is of 98 per cent purity, making it suitable for breathing and fuel.
After its success, the next step would be to create a full-scale system that includes an oxygen generator like MOXIE and a way to liquefy and store that oxygen.
Director of technology demonstrations, Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), Trudy Kortes said that they were proud to have supported the breakthrough.
“We’re proud to have supported a breakthrough technology like MOXIE that could turn local resources into useful products for future exploration missions,” said Kortes. STMD funds the MOXIE demonstration.
“By proving this technology in real-world conditions, we’ve come one step closer to a future in which astronauts ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet,” she said.
While Michael Hecht of MIT said that the mission served an inspiration to the in-situ resource utilisation community.
“MOXIE has clearly served as inspiration to the ISRU community,” said the instrument’s principal investigator, Hecht. “It showed NASA is willing to invest in these kinds of future technologies. And it has been a flagship that has influenced the exciting industry of space resources,” he added.