NASA has announced a big achievement involving its Perseverance rover, which landed on the Red Planet in February: it has successfully converted some of the Martian atmosphere to oxygen. This accomplishment, NASA explains, could pave the way for oxygen storage on Mars, as well as a more futuristic scenario involving generating oxygen for astronauts to breathe.
The new achievement was made possible by the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instrument, which NASA describes as an experimental system that’s about the size of a toaster. This success was a technology demonstration that involved converting some of the Red Planet’s carbon dioxide-based atmosphere into oxygen.
Though the effort may one day make it possible for astronauts to breathe in facilities on Mars, that’s not the only use. NASA points out that rockets are dependent on oxygen to burn fuel — and that, of course, will play an important role in getting future astronauts off Mars when their missions are complete.
Though it would be possible to bring oxygen with them on the trip from Earth to Mars, NASA explains that doing so would be ‘an arduous task’ due to the quantity needed. A toaster-size MOXIE won’t be able to meet the needs of such future missions, but the space agency says a larger and more powerful version would be able to produce the amount of oxygen needed to house and launch astronauts.
This initial experiment generated enough oxygen for an astronaut to spend around 10 minutes breathing. Additional phases of MOXIE testing are planned to further evaluate its performance and how the device functions in various atmospheric conditions and temperatures. Ultimately, however, MOXIE gets the distinction of being the first device to generate oxygen on another planet.