Perseverance rover was a pioneer in yet another activity on Martian soil. After recording the first Mars video and making the first autonomous helicopter take off there, it is now the first human-made equipment to produce oxygen on the planet.
The achievement was confirmed on Wednesday (21) by the Jet Propulsion Lab, the NASA sector responsible for the construction and movement of the vehicle, after the experiment was carried out the previous day.
The person responsible for the procedure is a component located on the upper right side of Perseverance, called MOXIE. The acronym, in Portuguese and with free translation, means Experiment of Use of In Situ Oxygen Resources on Mars.
What’s the use?
Generating oxygen from a substance already present on Mars is seen as a huge achievement by the space agency. This process is much safer, cheaper and faster than transporting huge amounts of the element from rockets, for example.
Altogether, in this first experiment, 5 grams of oxygen were produced – which would be equivalent to a 10-minute breathing air reserve for an astronaut. The maximum capacity of the equipment is to generate 10 grams / hour.
This procedure has two great possibilities for use. One is the most obvious: generating air reserves for astronauts (and possible future colonizers) to breathe from a controlled environment or space suit.
The second is to have enough oxygen to allow a Mars rocket to take off – something that requires burning large amounts of that element. For now, the extraction capacity of the equipment is not enough to guarantee any of these functions, but NASA itself understands that this is only the first step in a series of experiments.
Perseverance is not able to “create” oxygen. In fact, what it does is collect the carbon dioxide (CO2) that exists in abundance in the Martian atmosphere, separating the elements from chemical processes and that use electricity.
As a result, oxygen (O) is stored, while the remaining carbon monoxide (CO) is returned to Mars.
MOXIE is a box the size of a car battery that has a very special composition: it needs to be able to withstand the high temperature generated by the extraction process – 800 ºC. Therefore, it is made of 3D printed nickel alloys and an airgel that prevents heat dissipation.
A light, outer layer of gold reflects heat and allows the rest of Perseverance not to rise in temperature and be damaged.