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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Makes Breathable Oxygen on Mars

NASA's Perseverance rover can now generate oxygen on Mars
NASA’s Perseverance rover can now generate oxygen on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In a groundbreaking achievement, NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully created enough oxygen on Mars to support an astronaut for three hours. The rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, accomplished this remarkable feat through a special device called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE).

MOXIE worked by transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen during multiple episodes over a span of two years. Since its arrival on the Red Planet, this compact device, about the size of a microwave, has produced 4.3 ounces (equivalent to 122 grams) of oxygen, as reported by NASA.

To put it in simpler terms, this is approximately what a small dog breathes in over the course of ten hours. This development is a source of optimism for scientists, as it raises the possibility of sustaining human life on the challenging Martian terrain in the future.

“We’re proud to have supported a breakthrough technology like MOXIE that could turn local resources into useful products for future exploration missions,” stated Trudy Kortes, who serves as the director of technology demonstrations within the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

She further said, “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.”

Oxygen extraction by using MOXIE device

Carbon dioxide is plentiful on Mars, making up 95 percent of the planet’s thin atmosphere, as reported by NASA. The MOXIE device achieved the extraction of oxygen through a process involving sixteen separate experiments.

It essentially separated oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide (CO2), carefully assessed their purity, and securely stored them in a container. Any remaining materials were released as carbon monoxide.

Scientists highlight that these oxygen-extraction devices have multiple applications beyond providing breathable air for future settlers. They can also be used in the production of rocket fuel.

Pamela Melroy, NASA’s deputy administrator, expressed her enthusiasm for MOXIE’s outstanding performance, saying, “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.”

Melroy stressed the importance of developing such technologies for resource utilization on the Moon and Mars, as it is a crucial step toward establishing a sustainable presence on these celestial bodies, fostering economic activities on the Moon, and supporting human exploration missions to Mars.

Substantial health challenges

While the successful generation of oxygen on Mars marks a significant achievement, there remain substantial health challenges that must be addressed for the establishment of a sustainable Mars colony.

To begin with, Mars is an extremely cold planet, with an average temperature plummeting to around minus eighty degrees Fahrenheit (equivalent to minus 62 degrees Celsius). Without protective space suits, exposure to such temperatures would swiftly prove fatal.

Additionally, Mars has an exceptionally low atmospheric pressure, a condition that would cause human blood to boil.

Furthermore, Mars lacks a protective ozone layer, leaving its surface exposed to harmful radiation that can increase the risk of cancer. The arduous journey to Mars also poses risks, including severe losses in bone density.

Until these formidable obstacles can be surmounted, human exploration of Mars remains confined to missions like Perseverance. This robotic explorer plays a pivotal role in NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, with the aim of uncovering traces of ancient life by collecting numerous rock samples for eventual transport back to Earth.

Accompanying Perseverance is the Ingenuity helicopter, which has already completed fifty-seven successful flights over Martian terrain.

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