MOXIE: NASA’s New Oxygen on Mars

In April 2021 and for the first time, NASA managed to produce oxygen on Mars. The Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), “microwave-oven-size device”- as NASA described, generated oxygen for the 16th and final time aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover.

“MOXIE’s impressive performance shows that it is feasible to extract oxygen from Mars’ atmosphere – oxygen that could help supply breathable air or rocket propellant to future astronauts,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.

The device was able to extract 122g of oxygen in total, about what a small dog breathes in ten hours, which can support an astronaut for approximately three hours.  MOXIE is at 98% purity or better, which is twice as much as NASA’s initial goals for the microwavable device.

“Developing technologies that let us use resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to build a long-term lunar presence, create a robust lunar economy, and allow us to support an initial human exploration campaign to Mars.”

Although MOXIE is currently in its initial phases of development, it holds the promise of fundamentally, and historically, transforming how humans explore Mars. In the coming years, the device may find applications in generating oxygen for alien habitats and manufacturing rocket catalysts for missions to other cosmic bodies.

“We’re proud to have supported a breakthrough technology like MOXIE that could turn local resources into useful products for future exploration missions,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations, Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington, which funds the MOXIE demonstration.

“By proving this technology in real-world conditions, we’ve come one step closer to a future in which astronauts ‘live off the land’ on the Red Planet,” Kortes added.

The successive phase does not involve constructing MOXIE 2.0, despite Michael Hecht, the principal investigator of the MOXIE experiment, and his team acquiring valuable insights into enhancing the instrument’s efficiency. Instead, the next step involves developing a widespread system involving an oxygen generator like MOXIE, along with a method for liquefying and preserving the produced oxygen.

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