NASA's Perseverance rover turns a tiny bit of Mars air into breathable oxygen

Using an instrument called MOXIE, it produced about five grams of oxygen.


While the ultimate goal of Perseverance is to look for signs of ancient life on Mars, that hasn't stopped the rover from doing other scientific work. On April 20th, Perseverance successfully pulled carbon dioxide from the planet's atmosphere and converted it into oxygen, NASA announced on Wednesday. Along with a family portrait of its robotic siblings, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab fitted the rover with an instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment or MOXIE for short.

MOXIE cutaway

The toaster-sized tool allowed Perseverance to separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules by heating the gas at approximately 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit and creating carbon monoxide as a byproduct. During the instrument's first test, it produced about five grams of oxygen or about enough to give a lone astronaut approximately 10 minutes of breathable air in their suit. According to NASA, the experiment's success paves the way for future missions, particularly those involving human astronauts as both people and the rockets that will carry them to and from the Red Planet need oxygen to operate. The way NASA puts it, a single rocket carrying four astronauts will need about 55,000 pounds of oxygen to get off the ground. It's not feasible to transport that much oxygen to Mars. That's where future versions of the technology can help make exploring the planet viable.

The successful experiment follows another historic first for Perseverance and NASA. Earlier this week, the agency flew an aircraft on another planet when it completed the Ingenuity Mars helicopter's first test flight. Like MOXIE, Ingenuity is mainly a proof of concept, but it opens the door for future aircraft to explore the Red Planet.