September 06, 2022

MOXIE: Air on Mars?

NASA’s little Mars rover, Perseverance, is a marvel of space technology, but among its many compartments there is a device that is no larger than a lunchbox, and its function is critical to the future mission of sending people to the Red Planet.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment (MOXIE) – which was created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – has the unique ability to produce oxygen from carbon dioxide; results from a recent experiment conclude that it was able to successfully create six grams of oxygen per hour, which is on par with a relatively small tree on Earth.

The MIT-led experiment – which ran between February and December last year – consistently chugged away day and night during two Martian seasons, and was tested under different atmospheric conditions.

It achieved this by filtering the thin, dusty Mars air, heating it and then sending it through a solid oxide electrolysis assembly. The toaster-sized box was able to produce oxygen seven times via this method.

Jeffrey Hoffman, the Moxie deputy principal investigator at MIT, said: “This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body, and transforming them chemically into something that would be useful for a human mission.”

With upscaling and more attention, MOXIE has got all the moxie to ensure that people will be breathing easily on Mars.