NASA has produced enough oxygen on Mars to sustain an astronaut for a few hours in a world-first experiment.
The Perseverance rover, which landed on the red planet in February 2021, has been periodically burning through the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide to generate small amounts of oxygen for more than two years.
Using a device no larger than a microwave, they were able to extract 122g of oxygen in total – which can support an astronaut for about three hours.
Around 5g is enough for an astronaut for 10 minutes, giving hope that production on a larger scale could support human life and provide rocket fuel during future explorations.
The device, called MOXIE, produced oxygen on 16 separate occasions since the first attempt in April 2021, and the result has far exceeded NASA’s original goals, according to Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
At its peak, MOXIE created 12g of oxygen in an hour, which was double NASA’s aim, and it came in at least 98% purity.
On its final run last month, the instrument made 9.8g of oxygen.
The Perseverance rover’s primary objective is to search for signs of ancient microbial life, but MOXIE was focused on investigating conditions for future human exploration.
The same mission also saw the first flight on another planet, with the Ingenuity mini-helicopter taking off successfully in April 2021.