This instrument, by riding with the Perseverance rover, has proven to be a viable technology for astronauts on Mars to produce oxygen for fuel and breathing.
When the first astronauts land on Mars, their descendants may have a device the size of a microwave oven, thanks to the air they breathe and the rocket fuel they bring home. This instrument, called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen Resource In Situ Experiment), generated oxygen for the 16th and final time aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. And after proving to be far more successful than its creators at MIT had anticipated, its operations are nearing completion.
“MOXIE’s impressive performance shows that it is possible to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere – oxygen that could help provide breathable air or rocket fuel for future astronauts,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Milroy. “Developing technologies that allow us to use resources on the Moon and Mars is critical to building a long-term lunar presence, establishing a strong lunar economy, and allowing us to support the initial human exploration expedition to Mars.”
Since Perseverance landed on Mars in 2021, MOXIE has produced a total of 122 grams of oxygen, about as much as a small dog breathes in 10 hours. MOXIE, at its highest efficiency, was capable of producing 12 grams of oxygen per hour—twice the original goals set by NASA for the instrument—at a purity of 98% or better. On its 16th cycle, on August 7, the device produced 9.8 grams of oxygen. MOXIE has successfully completed all of its technical requirements and has been running in a variety of conditions for an entire solitary year, allowing the tool’s developers to learn a lot about the technology.
“We are proud to support advanced technology like MOXIE that can turn local resources into useful products for future exploration missions,” said Trudy Curtis, technology offering manager for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. MDF MOXIE DEMONSTRATION. “By demonstrating this technology in real-world conditions, we are one step closer to a future in which astronauts live outside Earth on the Red Planet.”
MOXIE produces molecular oxygen through an electrochemical process that separates one oxygen atom from every molecule of carbon dioxide pumped from Mars’ thin atmosphere. As these gases flow through the system, they are analyzed to check the purity and quantity of oxygen produced.
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The first of its kind
While many of the Perseverance experiments address the mission’s core science goals, MOXIE has focused on future human exploration. MOXIE was the first-ever demonstration of the technology humans could use to stay on and leave the Red Planet. The oxygen production system could aid future missions in various ways, but the main one will be as a source of rocket fuel, which will be needed in industrial quantities to launch rockets with the astronauts on their journey home.
Instead of bringing large quantities of oxygen with them to Mars, future astronauts could live off Earth, using the materials they find on the planet’s surface to survive. This concept — called In situ resource utilization, or ISRU — has evolved into a growing area of research.
“MOXIE clearly served as an inspiration to the ISRU community,” said the tool’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht of MIT. “It showed that NASA is willing to invest in this kind of future technology. It was a pioneer that influenced the exciting space resource industry.
The next step won’t be building MOXIE 2.0, though Hecht and his team have learned a lot about how to design a more efficient version of the tool. Rather, it would be a large-scale system that would include an oxygen generator like MOXIE and a way to liquefy that oxygen and store it.
But more than anything else, Hecht would like to see other technologies take a turn on Mars. “We have to make decisions about things to validate on Mars,” Hecht said. “I think there are many technologies on that list; I’m so glad MOXIE was the first.
More about the mission
The main goal of the Mars Perseverance mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will describe the planet’s geology and past climate, set the stage for human exploration of the Red Planet, and will be the first mission to collect and store Martian rocks and regolith (broken rocks and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s lunar exploration approach to Mars, which includes the Artemis missions to the moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, built and managed the operations of the Perseverance rover.
JPL manages Project MOXIE for the Technology Demonstration Mission Program within STMD. MOXIE has also been supported by NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate.
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(tags for translation)Mars missions