The Martian atmosphere is about 95% carbon dioxide. The remainder is mostly nitrogen and argon. NASA announced that an instrument aboard the rover had successfully extracted carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on Mars and then electrochemically split oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules.
- The Perseverance rover used an instrument known as MOXIE, or Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, which superheated the carbon dioxide to cleave it chemically, producing about 5 grams of pure oxygen – about enough for an astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes, according to NASA.
- Engineers hope that MOXIE can be scaled up to produce enough oxygen for future human flights to Mars. “This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home.”
- Oxygen produced on Mars could also be used in combination with rocket fuel to propel rockets returning to Earth. NASA estimates that 25 metric tons of oxygen would be needed for such a rocket carrying four astronauts. An industrial-size, MOXIE-style instrument for use on Mars might weigh about a metric ton, Hecht said last year.
- The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.