On Wednesday, NASA hit a milestone in the history of our universe extracting oxygen from carbon dioxide on Mars for the first time.
The test took place on a toaster-size, experimental instrument aboard the Perseverance rover called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) on April 20, the 60th Martian day, or sol, since the rover landed Feb. 18.
Although the technology demonstration is only in its early stages, it has the potential to transform science fiction into science reality by isolating and storing oxygen on Mars to fuel rockets that could carry astronauts off the planet’s surface.
For rockets or astronauts, oxygen is key, said MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory.
It would take 25 metric tons of oxygen for a trip to Mars, according to NASA experts. It will be a difficult challenge to transport 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars.
It will be much more efficient and practical to transport a one-ton oxygen converter – a bigger, more efficient relative of MOXIE capable of producing those 25 tons.
The atmosphere of Mars is composed of 96 percent carbon dioxide. MOXIE acts by separating oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules (one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms). Carbon monoxide is released into the Martian atmosphere as a waste product.