The MOXIE instrument has made 122 grams of oxygen since it landed on Mars in 2021 – just enough oxygen to support an astronaut for about three hours and 40 minutes. Experts believe the MOXIE instrument's achievement could be used to create future versions of the device that can store and create even more oxygen to assist future astronauts.
MOXIE first created oxygen in April 2021, and has now pulled oxygen a total of 16 times from the Martian atmosphere.
The instrument produces molecular oxygen through a process that splits one oxygen atom from each molecule of carbon dioxide sucked in from the thin Martian atmosphere. As these gases flow through the system, they are examined to check the purity and quantity of the oxygen made.
NASA said that at its most efficient, MOXIE has been able to make 12 grams of oxygen per hour at 98 percent purity or better.
"We're proud to have supported a breakthrough technology like MOXIE that could turn local resources into useful products for future exploration missions," said NASA Director of Technology Demonstrations Trudy Kortes in a statement. "By proving this technology in real-world conditions, we've come one step closer to a future in which astronauts 'live off the land' on the Red Planet."
As reported by the space agency, the simple golden cube has proven more successful than its creators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) anticipated.
MOXIE has completed its assignment, and its operations are now concluding, even though parent rover Perseverance will keep moving and presently has no scheduled end date.
"MOXIE's impressive performance shows that it is feasible to extract oxygen from Mars' atmosphere – oxygen that could help supply breathable air or rocket propellant to future astronauts. Developing technologies that let us use resources on the moon and Mars is critical to build a long-term lunar presence, create a robust lunar economy, and allow us to support an initial human exploration campaign to Mars," said NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy.
And now that MOXIE's mission has ended, scientists hope to make a system that has an oxygen generator similar to MOXIE, but also a device that can liquidize and accumulate that oxygen.
Not only would having oxygen on Mars permit future astronauts to breathe, but it could make transporting massive amounts of oxygen over from Earth to utilize as rocket propellant for the return journey irrelevant.
A specific follow-up to MOXIE could be part of NASA's Artemis program, which is planning manned missions to the moon but also paving the way for missions to Mars.
The U.S. space agency will be sending humans back to the moon in 2025, despite the fact its manned missions to Mars won't happen until the 2030s.
Perseverance, at a car-sized 2,259 pounds, is the heaviest payload thus far to go to Mars.
The Mars rover is assigned to search for traces of fossilized microbial life from Mars' ancient past and collect rock specimens that will be sent back to Earth. (Related: NASA Perseverance rover obtains Martian rock sample with possible signs of life.)
Nevertheless, Perseverance is not bringing the samples back to Earth with the rover caching them in specific areas on Mars to be gathered by a future recovery mission, which is presently being developed.
In addition to MOXIE, the rover carried a small helicopter named Ingenuity to Mars, which conducted the first powered flight on another planet.
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Watch this clip of NASA engineer and retired astronaut Nicole Stott explaining how the U.S. space industry can and should "aim higher."