NASA MOXIE Mars Air Oxygen
Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) is basically an experimental instrument that stands apart from Perseverance’s primary science. How does it work? Well, this golden cube pulls in the Martian air with a pump and then uses an electrochemical process to separate one oxygen atom from each molecule of carbon dioxide, or CO2, leaving carbon monoxide, or CO, as a byproduct. Read more for two videos and additional information.

As these gases flow through the system, they are checked to see how much oxygen has been produced, its purity, and the instrument’s efficiency. All the gases are then vented back into the atmosphere after each experiment is run. This current version is designed to make about 6 to 10 grams of oxygen per hour, or just about enough for a small animal to breathe. A full-scale version geared to make propellant for the trip home would need to scale up oxygen production by about 200 times what MOXIE will create.

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When we send humans to Mars, we will want them to return safely, and to do that they need a rocket to lift off the planet. Liquid oxygen propellant is something we could make there and not have to bring with us. One idea would be to bring an empty oxygen tank and fill it up on Mars,” said Michael Hecht of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MOXIE’s Principal Investigator.