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NASA's Perseverance spacecraft produced oxygen on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft produced oxygen on Mars

(CNN) – The Perseverance Chariot might be stationed in a Mars observation to catch any helicopter flights of Creativity for the next two weeks, but it wastes no time.

On Tuesday, the rover successfully converted a portion of the abundant carbon dioxide on Mars into oxygen as the first test of its Moxie instrument. The name Moxie is an acronym for Experimenting Using On-Site Oxygen Resources On Mars, or Experimenting Using On-Site Oxygen Resources.

After heating for about 2 hours, Moxie produced 5.4 grams of oxygen. This is enough to hold an astronaut for 10 minutes.

The tool is the size of a toaster and is a demo of the technology installed in the rover. If successful, this experiment could help humans explore Mars in the future.

A team of scientists installed MOXIE inside the Perseverance rover chassis in 2019.

Mars’ thin atmosphere is made up of 96% carbon dioxide, which is not very useful for humans who breathe oxygen.

Something that can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into oxygen can help in more than one way. Future larger and better versions of something like Moxie could convert and store oxygen needed for rocket fuel, as well as provide breathable air for life support systems.

The tool works by splitting carbon dioxide molecules, which include one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. It separates oxygen molecules and emits carbon monoxide as a waste product.

Heat-tolerant materials, such as a layer of gold and air air, were used to make the tool, as this conversion process required temperatures of approximately 800 ° C. These materials prevent heat from radiating out and damaging any aspect of the rover.

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“This is a critical first step in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars,” Jim Reuter, associate director for NASA’s Space Technology Mission, said in a statement.

Moxie has more work to do, but the results of demonstrating this technology are promising as we move towards our goal of seeing humans on Mars one day. Oxygen isn’t just what we breathe in. Propellants for rockets depend on oxygen, and future explorers will rely on fuel production on Mars for the homecoming trip.

To launch four astronauts from the surface of Mars, it would take about 15,000 pounds of rocket fuel and 55,000 pounds of oxygen. When living on Mars, space explorers will consume much less.

“Astronauts who spend a year on the surface may be using a metric ton of each other,” Michael Hecht, principal investigator at Moxie at the Haystack Observatory at MIT, said in a statement.

Creative journey on Mars from a new angle 0:35

Difficulty needing oxygen on Mars

Transporting a lot of oxygen from Earth to Mars would be incredibly difficult and expensive and would mean less space on the spacecraft for other needs.

However, oxygen transformer weighing about 1 ton, which is a large and powerful future generation of Moxie, can produce the required oxygen.

For future testing, Moxie will likely be producing up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour. The tool will test nine more times over the next two years, and the research team will use the data to design the next generations of Moxie.

Like the targets set for the Ingenuity helicopter, which is also a tech demo, the goal is for Moxie to push the boundaries of the device.

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During the first stage, the team will assess how the tool will work. Stage 2 will test Moxie in different conditions, such as the time of day or different seasons. During the third and final phase, we will “go further,” testing new methods of operation or introducing “unexpected fluctuations, such as operation in which we compare operations at three or more different temperatures,” Hecht said.

Technology like Moxie could essentially help future astronauts live off Earth and use the resources of their environment.

“Moxie is not only the first tool for producing oxygen in another world,” Trudy Curtis, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate, said in a statement.

It takes regolith, the substance in the soil, and converts it through a processing plant, converting it into a large structure, or taking carbon dioxide, most of the atmosphere, and converting it into oxygen. This process allows us to convert these abundant materials into usable things: propellant, breathable air or hydrogen and water.

The positive results of this first test bring missions to Mars one step closer to the human landing on the Red Planet.