To Make Oxygen on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance Rover Needs MOXIE
by Max G. Levy/Smithsonianmag.com
Putting boots on Mars isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than bringing them back.
This week, NASA launches its Perseverance rover on a one-way trip to the surface of Mars. Among many other tools, the craft carries an experimental instrument that could help astronauts in the future make roundtrip voyages to the planet. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, is small, about the size of a car battery. It’s designed to demonstrate a technology that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen with a process called electrolysis. Mars’ thin atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide, but sending anything back into space requires fuel, and burning that fuel requires oxygen. NASA could ship liquid oxygen to the planet, but the volume needed takes up a good deal of space.
MOXIE could show the way to a solution. If successful, a larger-scale version of MOXIE’s oxygen production technology could then be used to launch a rocket home. “NASA definitely doesn’t want to just leave people on Mars,” says Asad Aboobaker, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.