Of the many barriers to a human trip to Mars where astronauts would land, explore and return to Earth, the absence of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is a big one. Without oxygen that can be collected to support life and to provide fuel for a flight home, there can be no successful human mission to the planet.
So the results of a proof-of-concept trial on Mars that turned carbon dioxide into oxygen is positive news for sure. The instrument — called MOXIE on the rover Perseverance — successfully produced oxygen from carbon dioxide seven times last year, and convinced its inventors (and NASA) that it is a technology that can be of substantial importance.
While the amount of oxygen was not great — about 50 grams of the gas combined from the seven trials — the process worked well enough to strongly suggest that it could some day produce oxygen on a large scale.
“MOXIE has shown that (the deployed) technology for producing oxygen on Mars from the atmosphere is viable, is scalable, and meets expectations for efficiency and quality,” an MIT team led by Jeffrey Hoffman wrote in a Science Advances article released today.
They wrote that although long-term durability and resilience remain to be demonstrated and future efforts need to improve the instrument’s monitoring and controlling capabilities, “all indications are that a scaled-up version of MOXIE could produce oxygen in sufficient quantity and with acceptable reliability to support future human exploration.”
The size of both the problem and the opportunity can be seen in the fact that carbon dioxide makes up more than 95 percent of the Martian atmosphere while oxygen is only a miniscule 0.13 percent of the atmosphere. (Oxygen makes up 21 percent of the atmosphere on Earth.)
Transporting oxygen to Mars to fuel for a trip home is considered impractical because to burn its fuel a rocket must have substantial and weighty supplies of oxygen.… Read more