Historic First Brings Mars Colonization Closer Than Ever Before

By Chad Langen | Updated

mars oxygen

In February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover, carrying a small device named MOXIE, landed on Mars. The small device aimed to revolutionize space exploration by producing and providing Mars with oxygen. In a recent announcement, NASA declared MOXIE’s mission as successfully completed.

With a device called MOXIE, NASA has succeeded in producing a small amount of oxygen on Mars.

MOXIE, short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, started producing oxygen shortly after its arrival on the Red Planet. The instrument, converting some of planet’s plentiful carbon dioxide into oxygen, generated oxygen at an impressive rate. On August 7, during its 16th and final run, it produced 9.8 grams (0.35 oz) of oxygen.

According to NASA, MOXIE successfully generated a total of 122 grams (4.23 oz) of Mars oxygen, a quantity roughly equivalent to what a small dog breathes in 10 hours and twice the expected output for the device. At its peak efficiency, MOXIE was capable of producing 12 grams (0.4 oz) of oxygen per hour.

Moreover, the oxygen it generated was consistently of at least 98 percent purity, indicating promising prospects for future endeavors aimed at supporting human exploration of Mars on a larger scale.

Trudy Kortes, the director of technology demonstrations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, which funds the MOXIE demonstration, expressed pride in their support for this groundbreaking technology. She highlighted its potential to convert local resources into valuable products for upcoming exploration missions.

Kortes emphasized that by successfully testing this technology in authentic Martian conditions, they have taken a significant stride toward a future where astronauts can sustain themselves by utilizing Martian resources.

Oxygen Is Crucial To Future Mars Trips

Generating oxygen on the Red Planet offers two significant advantages. Firstly, ensuring astronauts embarking on missions to Mars have an ample oxygen supply is important. Secondly, and perhaps even more crucially, oxygen plays a pivotal role in rocket fuel composition.

MOXIE’s achievement in providing Mars with oxygen signifies a significant leap forward in the prospect of future human exploration on the barren planet…

mars oxygen
With MOXIE’s help, Matt Damon might’ve made it off Mars with a lot fewer potatoes

When space agencies eventually send astronauts to Mars, the intention is for it not to be a one-way journey. Instead, mission planners must transport sufficient rocket fuel to the planet to enable the crew to return to Earth after completing their missions. This demand for return-trip rocket fuel is substantial, as rockets need a greater weight of oxygen, serving as an oxidizer, to efficiently burn their fuel.

For instance, extracting four astronauts from Mars would demand a substantial payload, including roughly 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket fuel and a staggering 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen. This significant oxygen requirement must be factored into the mission, as it adds to the already substantial oxygen supplies needed for the rocket’s Earth launch and the astronauts’ breathing needs.

Considering the multitude of other payloads the team might carry onboard, the logistical challenges of a round-trip mission to Mars become even more complex.

MOXIE’s achievement in providing Mars with oxygen signifies a significant leap forward in the prospect of future human exploration on the barren planet, as it paves the way for astronauts to rely on locally sourced materials through in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), a concept of growing research interest.

The next step will be to focus on building a comprehensive system, including an oxygen generator like MOXIE and mechanisms for liquefying and storing the produced oxygen. Subsequently, there will be a significant phase dedicated to testing Mars-specific technologies, such as tools and habitat construction materials, to advance exploration efforts.