NASA announced that the Mars rover Perseverance successfully converted martian air into breathable oxygen. The space agency said that the rover used a special instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) to extract carbon dioxide from the air. The machine then superheated the carbon dioxide to separate the carbon and oxygen molecules. The device, which is the size of a toaster, stores the oxygen molecules and releases carbon monoxide back into the air.
In two hours, MOXIE produced 5.4 grams of oxygen, which equates to roughly ten minutes of breathable air.
NASA said that in addition to creating breathable air, the technology could be used to produce rocket fuel. In the future, NASA envisions using a large, one-ton version of MOXIE to generate the 55,000 tons of oxygen needed to create enough rocket fuel for a return journey to Earth.
"This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a statement. "MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars. Oxygen isn't just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home."
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