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NASA’s Perseverance mission has extracted oxygen on Mars

Topics Covered: Awareness in space.

NASA’s Perseverance mission has extracted oxygen on Mars:


Context:

A device aboard the rover was able to produce oxygen from the thin Martian atmosphere for the first time.

  • It promises hope for future crewed missions that can rely on this technology for astronauts to breathe and return to Earth.

Composition of Martian Atmosphere:

On Mars, carbon dioxide makes up ~96% of the gas in the planet’s atmosphere. Oxygen is only 0.13%, compared to 21% in Earth’s atmosphere.

How did Perseverance produce oxygen on Mars?

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) produced 5 grams of oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, enough for an astronaut to breathe for 10 minutes.

  • Like a tree on Earth, MOXIE inhales carbon dioxide and exhales oxygen.
  • To produce oxygen, MOXIE separates oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules. It does so by using heat at a temperature of around 800 degrees Celsius.
  • In the process, it also produces carbon monoxide as a waste product, which it releases in the Martian atmosphere.

About MOXIE:

  • A technology demonstrator, MOXIE is designed to generate up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour, and is placed inside the Perseverance rover.
  • It is the size of a car battery, weighing 37.7 pounds (17.1 kg) on Earth, but just 14.14 pounds (6.41 kg) on Mars.
  • Over the next two years, MOXIE is expected to extract oxygen nine more times.

Why is producing oxygen on the Red Planet so important?

Oxygen supply on Mars is essential for crewed missions to Mars– not just for astronauts to breathe but for rockets to use as fuel while coming back to Earth.

  • As per NASA, for four astronauts to take off from Mars, a future mission would require around 7 metric tons of rocket fuel and 25 metric tons of oxygen– around the weight of an entire space shuttle.
  • In contrast, astronauts living and working on Mars would require far less oxygen to breathe, maybe around one metric ton.
  • Thus, it will be an enormous challenge to haul the 25 metric tons of oxygen from Earth to Mars for the return journey, and that their job would become significantly easier if the liquified oxygen can be produced on the Red Planet.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Missions to Mars.
  2. Perseverance- objectives.
  3. Instruments onboard.
  4. About MOXIE.
  5. About the UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft.
  6. Pathfinder mission.

Sources: Indian Express.