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NASA’s historic achievement: Produced enough oxygen on Mars for an astronaut to breathe for 100 minutes

A small experimental device on NASA’s Perseverance robotic rover produced on the ground on Mars – doing the “work” of a small tree – enough oxygen to allow an astronaut to breathe for 100 minutes. The said MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) method is now to be used on a larger scale to help future manned missions.

MOXIE, which had arrived on Mars in February 2021 with the rover, managed to produce oxygen at a rate of about six grams per hour (about as much as a small tree produces) and even under difficult planetary conditions. In total it has already produced 50 grams of oxygen, enough for 100 minutes of breathing for an astronaut.

The researchers presented the MOHIE results for the first time in the scientific journal “Science Advances”. It was a “brilliant success,” said lead researcher Michael Hecht of MIT, as the device continued to produce high-quality oxygen day and night, in all Martian seasons and at different temperature extremes, even after a dust storm.

“It’s the first demonstration of actually taking resources from the surface of another planetary body and chemically transforming them into something that could be useful for a human mission. In that sense, it’s historic,” said Prof. MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Jeffrey Hoffman.

The device uses filters, pumps and compressors to draw carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, filter and clean it, compress and heat it to 800 degrees Celsius, then electrochemically split it into atoms ( ions) of oxygen and carbon monoxide, until it finally isolates and combines the oxygen atoms to produce respirable molecular oxygen gas, which is released into the air.

NASA is now working on a larger version of the device, about one cubic meter in volume (100 times larger than the current MOJIE), which poses technical challenges. Such a larger device could produce enough oxygen—at a rate equivalent to hundreds of trees—not only for the entire crew of a Mars mission, but also for the 30 to 50 tons of propellant (liquid oxygen) needed for launch and return. them on Earth, so that not as much oxygen would need to be transported from our planet to Mars in advance.

Gradually more such units will together form an oxygen factory on the neighboring planet, harnessing the abundant carbon dioxide that exists there and makes up about 96% of the Martian atmosphere. However, to support an astronaut mission, the oxygen generator would have to work continuously for about 400 days, and so far MOXIE – which continues to work on Mars – has worked for a maximum of an hour each time (a total of seven times at different times periods). In any case, its technology is considered promising.

Link to scientific publication: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abp8636


Source: Capital

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