The six-wheeled robot turned a quantity of carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen, the first time this has happened on another planet, the space agency said on Wednesday.
“This is a critical first step in transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s space technology mission.
The technological demonstration took place on April 20 and it is hoped that future versions of the experimental instrument that was used could pave the way for future human exploration.
Not only can the process produce oxygen for future astronauts to breathe, but it could make it unnecessary to transport large amounts of oxygen from Earth to be used as a rocket propellant for the return journey.
The Mars Resource Usage Experiment – or MOXIE – is a gold box the size of a car battery and is located on the right front of the rover.
Nicknamed the “mechanical tree”, it uses electricity and chemistry to divide carbon dioxide molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.
It also produces carbon monoxide as a by-product.
In its first stage, MOXIE produced 5 grams of oxygen, equivalent to about 10 minutes of respirable oxygen for an astronaut performing normal activity.
MOXIE engineers will now perform several tests and try to intensify their production. It is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.
Designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MOXIE was built with heat-resistant materials such as nickel alloy and designed to tolerate the 1,470-degree Fahrenheit (800 Celsius) combustion temperatures required for it to work.
A thin layer of gold ensures that it does not radiate heat and does not damage the rover.
MIT engineer Michael Hecht said a one-ton version of MOXIE could produce about 25,000 kilograms (25 tons) of oxygen needed for a rocket to explode from Mars.
Producing oxygen from the atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide on Mars could be a more feasible option than extracting ice from beneath its surface and then electrolyzing it to produce oxygen.
Perseverance landed on the red planet on February 18 on a mission to look for signs of microbial life.
His Genius mini-helicopter made history this week by making its first motor flight to another planet.
The rover itself also recorded the sounds of Mars directly for the first time.
This story was published from an agency stream with no changes to the text.