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It also reveals that astronauts will fuel rockets on their journey back on Earth.
The Perseverance rover of NASA has just brought fresh air to Mars. An experimental unit on the rover divided CO2 into its sections, providing breathable oxygen for around 10 minutes. There was also sufficient oxygen to produce small quantities of rocket fuel.
MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Recource Use Experiment) The instrument is around the size of a toaster (SN: 7/28/20) . Their task is to cut off oxygen atoms, the main element in the atmosphere of Mars, from carbon dioxide. It’s like “the electric tree,” Michael Hecht, MIT’s chief prosecutor, said. “We breathe carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen.”
MOXIE, arriving on the Red Planet 18 February (SE: 2/22/21), flocked to Mars with perseverance. On 20 April the device was heated up to about 800°C and worked for 5 grams of oxygen for long enough. It’s not sufficient to breathe for a long time. However, Hecht notes that the key excuse for making oxygen on Mars is not to breathe. For the return journey to Earth, it is to make fuel.
“A lot of the combustion is oxygen when we burn something, gas in the engine, or a log in the fireplace,” Hecht says. On Earth, we take all that oxygen for granted. “It’s free here. We don’t think about it.”
Future astronauts would either have to carry or produce oxygen on Mars. A rocket which is strong enough to remove a few astronauts from the surface of the Red Planet would require about 25 metric tonnes.
MOXIE is the prototype that will be used in future by astronauts to produce rocket fuel. The instrument will produce 10 grammes of oxygen per hour while it runs at maximum speed. Driven by perseverance, the instrument would work around one Martian day at a time. Hecht claims that a scaled up version will last for 26 months until astronauts appear.
The success of this technology could set the way for a permanent Martian research station, as Hecht would one day like to see at the McMurdo station in Antarctica. “I don’t want to see that in my life, but I hope I can see changes in my life,” he says. “MOXIE brings it closer by a decade.”