NASA’s rover is a tree-like device that converts CO2 into oxygen in Mars

NASA’s Persistence Mars Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 30, hosting state-of-the-art technology, including high-definition video equipment and the first interplanetary helicopter.

Many instruments have been designed as experimental steps towards human exploration of the red planet. Crucially, Persistence is equipped with a device called the Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE: an effort to produce oxygen on a planet where it makes up less than 0.2 percent of the atmosphere.

Oxygen is a cumbersome payload on space missions. It has a lot of space, and it is very unlikely that astronauts can breathe enough numbers of humans to Mars, let alone take the spacecraft home for long journeys.

The problem is that MOXIE is looking to solve. The car-battery-shaped robotic device is about 1 percent of the scale model scientists hope to send one day to Mars, perhaps in the 20th century.

Like a tree, MOXIE operates in carbon dioxide, although it is specifically designed for thin Martian environments. It then electrically splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and adds oxygen molecules to O2.

It analyzes O2 for accuracy, shooting for about 99.6 percent of O2. It then releases both breath oxygen and carbon monoxide back into the planet’s atmosphere. However, future scale-up devices will store oxygen produced in tanks for end use by humans and rockets.

54ad8d226bb3f7a01aba7179Breakdown of components inside the MOXIE oxygen generator. (NASA / Wikimedia Commons)

According to Michael Hatch, a principal investigator at MOXIE, carbon monoxide poisoning is not a concern. The gas rearranges Mars’ atmosphere, but it won’t change much.

“If you release carbon monoxide into Mars’ atmosphere, it will eventually combine with a very small amount of residual oxygen and turn back into carbon dioxide,” Hatch previously told Business Insider.

For that reason, carbon monoxide also won’t disrupt a potential biosphere on Mars – a closed, engineered environment where earthly life thrives.

Because MOXIE is a small proof-of-concept experiment, it will not produce much oxygen – if all goes well, it should produce about 10 grams per hour, which is approximately the amount of oxygen in 1.2 cubic feet of Earth is. For reference, humans require about 19 cubic feet of air per day.

MOXIE will test its capabilities by producing oxygen in increments of one hour during the duration of the Perseverance’s mission, according to NASA. The device should start working soon after the Rover lands on 18 February 2021.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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