NASA extracts breathable oxygen from thin Martian air

LOS ANGELES: NASA has recorded another alien in its latest mission to Mars: the transformation of carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into pure, breathable oxygen, the US space agency said on Wednesday.
The unprecedented extraction of oxygen, literally from the air on Mars, was done on Tuesday by an experimental device aboard Perseverance, a six-wheeled scientific rover that landed on the red planet on February 18 after a seven-month journey from Earth.
In its first activation, the instrument the size of a toaster called MOXIE, short for the Experiment of Using Resource in Oxygen Conditions on Mars, produced about 5 grams of oxygen, the equivalent of about 10 minutes of breathing for an astronaut, said NASA. Although the initial production was modest, the farm marked the first experimental extraction of a natural resource from another planet’s environment for direct human use.
“MOXIE is not just the first instrument to produce oxygen in another world,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement. She called it the first technology of its kind to help future missions “live off the earth” of another planet.
The instrument works by electrolysis, which uses extreme heat to separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules, which account for about 95% of the atmosphere on Mars.
The remaining 5% of Mars’ atmosphere, which is only about 1% the density of the Earth, consists mainly of molecular nitrogen and argon. Oxygen exists on Mars in negligible quantities.
But an abundant amount is considered essential for the possible human exploration of the Red Planet, both as a sustainable source of breathable air for astronauts and as a necessary ingredient for rocket fuel to fly home.
The volumes needed to launch rockets into space on Mars are particularly discouraging.
According to NASA, removing four astronauts from the Martian surface would require about 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket, combined with 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen.
Transporting a one-ton oxygen conversion machine to Mars is more practical than trying to transport 25 tons of oxygen in Earth tanks, MOXIE lead researcher Michael Hecht of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a statement. NASA release.
Astronauts living and working on Mars would probably need a metric ton of oxygen between them to last a full year, Hecht said.
MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams per hour as proof of the concept, and scientists plan to run the car at least nine more times over the next two years under different conditions and speeds, NASA said.
The first oxygen conversion race came a day after NASA made the first historically controlled flight of an aircraft to another planet, with a successful takeoff and landing of a miniature robotic helicopter on Mars.
Like MOXIE, the two-rotor helicopter called the Ingenuity launched on Mars with perseverance, whose main mission is to look for fossilized traces of ancient microbes that may have flourished on Mars billions of years ago.