Tech News: Big breakthrough for NASA as Perseverance Rover turns a bit of Mars air into breathable oxygen.
Although Perseverance’s ultimate goal is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars, that has not stopped the rover from doing other scientific work. On April 20, Perseverance successfully extracted carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere and converted it to oxygen, NASA announced Wednesday. Along with a family portrait of its robotic siblings, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab equipped the rover with an instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE for short.
This toaster-sized instrument allowed Perseverance to separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules by heating the gas to about 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit and producing carbon monoxide as a byproduct. During the instrument’s first test, it produced about five grams of oxygen or about enough to give a lone astronaut about 10 minutes of breathing air in his suit.
According to NASA, the success of the experiment paves the way for future missions, especially those involving human astronauts, since both the humans and the rockets that transport them to and from the Red Planet require oxygen to operate. According to NASA, a single rocket carrying four astronauts requires about 55,000 pounds of oxygen to get off the ground. It is not feasible to transport that much oxygen to Mars. That’s where future versions of the technology could help the planet be viably explored.
The successful experiment follows another historic first for Perseverance and NASA. Earlier this week, the agency flew a plane on another planet when it completed the first test flight of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. Like MOXIE, Ingenuity is primarily a proof of concept, but it opens the door for future aircraft to explore the Red Planet.