In February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover made an international debut on Mars, alongside a small golden box named MOXIE.
The Perseverance, a toaster-sized block, was equipped with the necessary components to start revolutionizing the space exploration game by creating oxygen.
The “Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment” or MOXIE, was a rapid and impressive process that produced oxygen at its maximum capacity until the 16th run by this tiny cube.
The mission of MOXIE has been concluded by NASA on September 6, and the device has produced 122 grams of Martian oxygen, equivalent to the respiration rate of a small dog for 10 hours. This is twice the amount of oxygen that MOxIE could generate during its mission.
At its peak, MOXIE produced 12 grams of the vital element per hour, and its oxygen was pure to a minimum of 98%. These statistics are encouraging for future extensive endeavors that could aid in the exploration of Mars.
According to a statement from NASA, the first astronauts who land on Mars may be held responsible for the air they breathe and the rocket propellant that will transport them back home.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter exceeds its maximum flight time of 100 minutes on the Mars.
Is it not possible to extract oxygen from Earth?
The production of oxygen on Mars has two significant benefits, one of which is the need for future astronauts to have access to as much oxygen as possible during their time on the red planet.
According to Trust Kortes, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, “we have achieved one thing by demonstrating this technology in real-world scenarios and we are moving towards a future where astronauts can live off the ground on Mars.”
Oxygen is a crucial element in rocket fuel, and perhaps the most important factor.
The mission of space agencies will not be a one-way trip to Mars; instead, they will need to send enough rocket fuel to the planet for the entire crew to return home. This fuel needs to be heavier than the required amount of oxygen per unit rockets to burn off as an oxidizer.
The crew would need approximately 15,000 pounds of rocket fuel and 55,000 tons of oxygen to safely transport four astronauts to Mars, as well as other payloads.
NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS: Insight and the Perseverance rover.
A close-up shot of MOXIE, captured by NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Scientists thought it would be feasible to eliminate some of the weight and place oxygen in rocket fuel on Mars instead of using a different type of fuel.
It would be more environmentally friendly, cost-efficient, and make the prospect of a future civilization on Mars more realistic for humanity.
In April of this year, MOXIE was liberated from its oxygen supply, and Jim Reuter, associate administrator at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, stated that “protocol will be required to make the journey home for future explorers,” according to his statement.
The potential advantages of MOXIE could be extended to future lunar astronauts, given the possibility of using it to explore water on the moon.
The space agencies are clearly focused on reducing payloads as they envision a future where humans can move freely.
According to NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, the development of technologies that enable resource utilization on the moon and Mars is essential for building a lasting lunar presence, developing sane economic base, and backing an early human exploration mission to Mars.
What is the mechanism behind MOXIE?
To put it simply, MOXIE can extract carbon dioxide molecules from Mars’ slender atmosphere, which consist of one carbon atom and two oxygen atomic particles, and remove those oxygen fragments.
The challenge lies in achieving a temperature of roughly 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius) during the process, which must be carried out in diverse conditions on Mars as the planet progresses throughout its year. MOXIE has chosen to use heat-tolerant materials such as nickel alloy components, breathable aerogels, and gold coatings that can reflect infrared heat and safeguard Perseverance from this hazardous situation.
NASA’s image shows a diagram illustrating what is contained within MOXIE.
The James Webb Space Telescope’s mirrors have a gold coating, which is beneficial for reflecting infrared light onto its in-built inerssant-parsing sensors.
The team’s next move is to build a full-scale system that includes storing and hydrating all the oxygen produced during the MOXIE mission, rather than just building MOxIE 2.0.
Michael Hecht, the principal investigator of the Mars instrument, stated in the statement that it is up to us to decide what we validate on the planet.
“It’s a good point to mention several technologies, but MOXIE was the first on my list.”