NASA’s enduring Mars expedition launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 30, carries a host of cutting-edge technologies including high-definition video equipment and the first interplanetary helicopter.
Many tools are designed as experimental steps towards human discovery of the red planet. Crucially, Perseverance is equipped with a device called the Mars Spot Oxygen Resource Experiment, or MOXIE: an attempt to produce oxygen on a planet where it occupies less than 0.2% of the vote. ozone.
Oxygen is a cumbersome payload in space missions. It takes up a lot of space and it’s very unlikely that astronauts would be able to bring enough of it to Mars for humans to breathe there, let alone fuel the spacecraft for the long journey home. .
That̵7;s the problem that MOXIE is trying to solve. The automotive battery-sized robot is a roughly 1%-scale model of equipment that scientists hope will one day send to Mars, perhaps in the 2030s.
Like a tree, MOXIE works by absorbing carbon dioxide, although it is specifically designed for Mars’ thin atmosphere. It then splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and combines oxygen molecules into O2.
It analyzes O2 for purity, capturing about 99.6% O2. It then releases both oxygen and carbon monoxide gas back into the planet’s atmosphere. Future-scaled devices will, however, store the oxygen generated in tanks for ultimate use by humans and rockets.
According to Michael Hecht, chief investigator at MOXIE, the toxicity of the carbon monoxide produced is not a concern. The gas returns to the Martian atmosphere but won’t change it much.
Hecht previously told Business Insider: “If you release carbon monoxide into the Martian atmosphere, it will eventually combine with a very small amount of excess oxygen there and turn back into carbon dioxide.
For that reason, carbon monoxide would also not hinder a potential Mars biosphere – a closed environment, designed for life on Earth to thrive.
Since MOXIE is a small experiment, it won’t generate much oxygen – if all goes well, it will produce about 10 grams per hour, which is the equivalent of the amount of oxygen in 1.2 cubic feet of Earth’s air. For context, humans need about 19 cubic feet of air per day.
According to NASA, MOXIE will test its ability by producing oxygen in increments of one hour during the duration of the Perseverance mission. The device will be in service soon after landing on 18 February 2021.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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