Just as terrestrial plants can, the so-called Moxie experiment converted atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO.2) in the oxygen molecule O., necessary for humans2. In this way, the device produced approximately 6 grams of oxygen per hour, a modest tree production rate. This is what the researchers participating in the journal wrote on Wednesday science progress.
Playing Piggyback on American Marswagen tenacity, Moxie produced her own oxygen in seven separate attempts. In addition, the device performed well under different conditions: day and night, and in different seasons on Mars.
The ability to produce oxygen on Mars is one of the basic necessities for future manned missions to the Red Planet. Not just so the astronauts can breathe, but especially before their final departure.
Rocket engines work with oxygen, among other things. It is estimated that a standard six-seater spacecraft taking off from Mars would use 31 tons of oxygen and 9 tons of methane to take off from space. By comparison, six astronauts exhale a maximum of 1.5 tons during a one-year stay.
Transporting that much oxygen to Mars would be very impractical. The authors estimate that it would take ten times the additional fuel to move the payload off Earth at all. Gas production directly on Mars offers the solution.
If you want to produce oxygen on Mars, you really only have three options, says Inge-Louis Ten-Kate (Utrecht University), who previously worked at Marswagen Curiosity, one of Perseverance’s predecessors. You can extract it from Martian ice, break it up at a high temperature from existing rocks, or make it from the atmosphere. “The latter option is the simplest, fastest, and easiest to scale,” she says.
Successful stress test
Earlier, Moxie had already demonstrated in Earth laboratories that it could perform under Martian conditions. Last year, the space agency already reported a successful first attempt. Now the device has successfully passed the fully scheduled endurance test.
“Everything can work beautifully on Earth, but it’s still important to try it right away,” says Tin Kate. “When the first robotic Pathfinder landed on Mars in 1997, the goal was just to see if it could drive on the planet at all. The same goes for this experiment.”
According to the researchers, Moxie’s range could be expanded – with some modifications – in the future to the production quantities needed for manned Mars missions. “It’s going to happen eventually, people are on Mars,” says Ten Kate. “That’s a nice new step at that.”
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