The future of humanity on Mars may depend on a gold box about the size of a car battery.
On February 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars with this box, called MOXIE, located inside it.
MOXIE was designed to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars, and NASA plans to put it to the test within the next few months. If it works as hoped, the instrument could play a key role in getting astronauts home from Mars – and perhaps even help them survive while on the Red Planet .
NASA can’t send humans to Mars until they know it will bring them back as well, which means making sure the astronauts have enough astronauts for their return trip.
The simplest option is to send the propellant – a mixture of oxygen and rocket fuel – to Mars by the astronauts.
But this is not economically feasible – a team of four would have to launch about 7 tons of rocket fuel and 27 tons of oxygen from Mars, and every extra pound of payload we send to Mars increases the cost of the trip by at least $ 2,400.
MOXIE could help.
MOXIE – which stands for Mars Oxygen In Situ Utility Test – may allow the astronauts to convert the local carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Oxygen makes up only about 0.13% of Mars’ s atmosphere, but carbon dioxide is abundant, making up 96% of it – and NASA hopes that MOXIE will prove that it is possible to conversion to oxygen on Mars.
To create oxygen on Mars, MOXIE takes in some of the planet’s air and heats it to nearly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. (The gold cover on the outside of the instrument will ensure that this heat will not damage the Stability rover.)
“If we can make oxygen on the surface, that could save us a lot of money.”
Eric Daniel Hinterman
It then adds an electric current to the air to split the CO2 into oxygen and carbon monoxide. After noticing the amount of oxygen extracted and its purity, MOXIE releases the air back into the atmosphere.
If MOXIE can emit at least 99.6% of true oxygen on Mars, future missions could use that oxygen. To do that, NASA needs to build a version of MOXIE that is 200 times larger.
The larger version of MOXIE would store the oxygen. Astronauts could then combine it with fuel to make a rocket, but as MOXIE team member Eric Daniel Hinterman told Live Science, it could also turn to life support systems.
“We can send that oxygen from Earth to Mars, but if we can do it on the surface that could save us a lot of money,” Hinterman said.
NASA hasn’t set a date for when MOXIE will first try to create oxygen on Mars, but they plan to conduct up to a dozen tests to make sure the tech works under different Martian conditions. .
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