Perseverance - NASA's rover on Mars just converted carbon dioxide into oxygen which can help astronauts breathe on the Martian surface.
NASA's prized exploratory rover Perseverance was sent to Mars for some very important functions, one of the most interested and important of which has been that the rover contains with it the technology needed to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. This has been achieved through artificially facilitating a process remarkably similar to that which trees perform on Earth, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.
The name of this device is the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), and it is the first such attempt to terraform the atmosphere of a foreign planet by human beings. MOXIE "inhaled" carbon dioxide from the surface atmosphere of Mars and released the oxygen trapped within it. The amount of oxygen released was, unsurprisingly, very small - only 5.4 grams. 5.4 grams of oxygen is only sufficient to keep a human being alive for no more than 10 minutes. Although the amount of oxygen released thus far is not that impressive, the sheer fact that it's possible opens the world of possibilities and serves as evidence that the red planet could potentially be terraformed to be suitable for human habitation in the near future.
Of course, this is massive news for space exploration concerns since oxygen is vital for human survival, and the amount of oxygen that can be safely transported to Mars is also limited since oxygen is assumed a relatively large amount of space aboard a spacecraft. Therefore producing new sources of oxygen on the Martian surface is very important if future planetary colonization is considered a serious possibility. The oxygen that can be generated on the Martian surface can not only be used for respiratory purposes, but it can also serve as a fuel ingredient for sending returning spaceships back to earth.
NASA official Jim Reuter stated that this was a critical first step towards humans possibly terraforming the atmosphere of Mars in a recent press release on Wednesday, especially since many people did not believe that it was possible to successfully convert carbon dioxide to oxygen on the Martian surface.
He explained that MOXIE provided some truly spectacular results that are very encouraging of the full potential of utilizing technology for terraforming Mars. He also explained that the various uses of a domestic oxygen supply on Mars range from respiratory purposes to serving as fuel for astronauts to return home to Earth.
MOXIE is only the size of a car battery, but scientists hope that in the future they will be able to send new decisions based on the success of MOXIE that will far larger in size as well as sophistication to the Martian surface. They expect that future versions of MOXIE would produce as much oxygen to fuel the voyage of 4 individual astronauts from Mars, around 25 metric tons. The biggest benefits of producing oxygen on Mars are the space aboard spaceships and the money saved from unnecessary use.
Perseverance has been very busy upon its arrival to the Martian surface as it has not only facilitated converting carbon dioxide to oxygen in Mars but just this Monday, Perseverance guided the first helicopter flight on Mars. The small helicopter, Ingenuity, was launched from the rover and controlled by it as well as it flew over the Martian surface for a few short minutes.
Thomas Zurbuchen, one of NASA's associate administrators, explained that these demonstrations of technological sophistication are extremely important for highlighting the full portfolio that NASA has developed. He further explained that the success of Perseverance and Ingenuity constitute valuable new additions to the company's toolbox.
NASA claims that they intend to have MOXIE successfully produce oxygen on Mars at least 9 times within the following 2 years. They also explained that while MOXIE's first attempt at producing oxygen on Mars had more to do with simply proving that it was possible to do so, future attempts will be focused on improving the efficiency of the process as well as experimenting with oxygen generation during periods of time and under different geographic circumstances. MOXIE is currently capable of producing oxygen at a rate of approximately 10 grams of oxygen per hour.
The Martian atmosphere is nearly 96% carbon dioxide, so there is no shortage of raw material that MOXIE can work with. The way that MOXIE works is that it uses heat and electrical currents to separate CO2 molecules into their constituents: oxygen and carbon monoxide. Since oxygen atoms are relatively reactive with one another, they quickly coalesce into O2, breathable oxygen.
NASA states that the final oxygen product produced by MOXIE is nearly pure oxygen at approximately 99.6% O2. This is especially impressive since it is a perfect concentration of oxygen for human beings to breathe on the surface of the planet and use as a fuel source for spacecraft.
Once the two constituents are separated, MOXIE releases them both back into the Martian atmosphere. Future incarnations of MOXIE, with far more sophisticated technology, could be expected to not only produce but also store oxygen for future use.
NASA scientists and engineers explained that converting carbon dioxide from the Martian surface into oxygen is not the sole way for astronauts to improve habitability on Mars. Other possible ways for improving habitability on the Martian surface using minerals and rocks from the Martian surface to build new structures or possibly melting ice found on lunar surfaces to obtain potable water and a source of fuel for spaceships.
Irrespective of what approach NASA chooses to adopt for the purpose of improving habitability on the Martian surface, MOXIE's recent success is not only a massive source of motivation for NASA about the possibility of possible terraforming of the planet, but it has also added a great new tool into NASA's arsenal that it can use in the near future to further achieve its goals. So, overall, we can be sure that this has been a massive step towards the future of space exploration and Martian colonization.