The United States of America could become the first country to produce oxygen on another planet. According to NASA, a device installed on the Perseverance robot vehicle was able to produce about five grams of oxygen on Mars, enough for an astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes.
The device, called Moxie, was installed on Perseverance, the NASA robot that arrived on Mars in February, and was designed to test whether it is possible to produce fuel and breathable air from materials available on the planet. The day after the space mission made history again when it made its first controlled flight on another planet, with the Ingenuity helicopter, Moxie was able to produce about five grams of oxygen on Mars, NASA revealed.
Mars’ atmosphere is made up of 96% carbon dioxide. The Moxie device – a box the size of a toaster that weighs about 17 kilograms – is designed to absorb carbon dioxide and break it down internally through an electrolysis process at about 800 degrees that produce virtually pure oxygen molecules and carbon monoxide as the main waste.
The main function of this oxygen writes the newspaper “El País”, is to serve as fuel for the rockets used to return to Earth, although NASA is also considering using it so that future astronauts on Mars can breathe. Moxie serves to prove that it is possible to produce oxygen on the planet. To return to Earth, a rocket would need 25 tons of oxygen, but also another seven tons of other fuel, which could be methane.
“One option [to produce methane] is to generate it from the frozen water that exists in the Martian subsoil,” explained Jorge Pla-García, a researcher at the Madrid Center for Astrobiology (CAB) and a member of the mission of NASA on Mars. “This frozen water could be used to drink, irrigate crops and make fuel. It must be borne in mind that the cost of taking a kilo of material into space is in the order of a million euros, so that everything we can use on the spot welcome, “he added.
One of the options that NASA is considering for future manned missions is to send a device similar to Moxie, but of much larger dimensions so that it can produce oxygen in large quantities.
“Moxie’s milestone is just as important as that of Ingenuity because it opens up a new path in Martian exploration by demonstrating the ability to generate an essential element for both human breathing and fuel synthesis on Mars and even to produce water”, explains Alberto González-Fairén, also a CAB researcher.
Pure oxygen is toxic to humans, so it must be mixed with other elements, such as nitrogen, which represents about 3% of the air on Mars, adds González-Fairén. “NASA’s first manned space flights had atmospheres of pure oxygen. The problems of flammability of these atmospheres, as well as the health problems of astronauts due to the formation of gas bubbles in the blood, caused it to start to change. In Skylab already there was 75% oxygen and 25% nitrogen. The Russian space station MIR, the Soyuz spacecraft, and NASA space shuttles already had standard terrestrial atmospheres, and the same is true today on the International Space Station: water is used that through from hydrolysis it decomposes into O₂ and H₂ and that oxygen is released in the cabin, where it mixes with the rest of the gases to create an atmosphere similar to that of Earth, with 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen “, highlights the researcher.
Perseverance will continue to test oxygen production in different climatic conditions and at different levels of purity. The robot is also equipped with radar capable of detecting ice in the ground.
Source: with Agencies