NASA has produced enough oxygen on Mars for an astronaut to survive for 100 minutes

Credit image: NASA
Credit image: NASA

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 15 September 2022, at 10:04 am Los Angeles time

NASA's MOXIE experiment on Mars produced oxygen for about 100 minutes, which gives hope for future manned missions. NASA's small oxygen production experiment on Mars managed to generate about 100 minutes of breathable oxygen. 

Now, it is to be expanded to support future human exploration. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) is a small oxygen-generating device that landed on the Red Planet aboard the Perseverance rover in February 2021.

During seven-hour-long production runs, MOXIE was able to reliably produce about 15 minutes of oxygen per hour in a variety of harsh planetary conditions. This added up to a total of 50 grams of oxygen in total - about 100 minutes of breathing oxygen for a single astronaut. 

The NASA team is now looking to create a larger version of the device that would produce not only enough oxygen to support life for a manned mission to Mars but also enough oxygen to propel a return rocket to Earth. 

MOXIE needs pumps and compressors to suck carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, as well as heaters that can raise the temperature of the air to 800°C (1470°F). The device then extracts oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, which MOXIE measured before releasing it. 

Still, there will be some challenges in scaling up this technology, says Gerald Sanders of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. 

These include being able to insulate a larger version of MOXIE to manage internal temperature and ensure the device heats up evenly to prevent it from disintegrating. 

Sanders also says that an oxygen device that can support a human mission would need to operate continuously for about 400 days, and so far, MOXIE tests have only lasted an hour. 

"That's a lot of hours to get the hardware up and running, regardless of the technology," he says. 

Still, MOXIE's successful first year was a big step forward in demonstrating the technology's potential, Sanders says. 

NASA is now testing the necessary hardware on a scale that would be relevant for a human mission. The larger version will probably be around one cubic meter in size, which shouldn't be a problem for launches. 

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