NASA’s persistent rover continues to make history.
An instrument attached to the six-wheel rover has converted carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen, the first time this has happened in another plan.NASA said Wednesday.
“This is a critical first step in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, NASA’s assistant director of space technology mission guidance.
The demo took place on April 20, and subsequent releases of the experimental tool used are expected to pave the way for future human exploration.
Not only can the process produce oxygen for future astronauts, but it can also prevent the transport of large amounts of oxygen from Earth for use as propellant for rockets on the return flight.
The Site Oxygen Experience (MOXIE) on Mars is a gold box the size of a car battery and is located on the front-right side of the rover.
Called the “mechanical tree,” it uses electricity and chemistry to split carbon dioxide molecules, which consist of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.
It also produces carbon monoxide as a by-product.
In its first run, MOXIE produced 5 grams of oxygen, equivalent to about 10 minutes of breathable oxygen for an astronaut performing normal activity.
The engineers at MOXIE – designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour – will now run more tests and try to increase its performance.
Designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the MOXIE is built with heat-resistant materials, such as nickel alloy, to withstand the temperatures of 1470 Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius) required to operate it.
A thin layer of gold ensures that heat is not radiated and the rover is damaged.
Michael Hecht, a MIT engineer, said a one-ton version of MOXIE could produce roughly 55,000 pounds (25 tons) of oxygen needed to launch a missile from Mars.
Producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is made up of 96% carbon dioxide, could be a more feasible option than doing so by extracting ice from beneath its surface and then electrolysis of it.
The Perseverance landed on the Red Planet on February 18th on a mission to search for signs of microbial life.
His miniature helicopter made history this week with his maiden flight to another planet.
The same spacecraft recorded Mars sounds live for the first time.