Mars Rover
M2020 ATLO - MOXIE Installation Requesters: David Gruel Photographer: R. Lannom Date: 20-MAR-19 Photolab order: 070915-171696

By: Nick Gambino

NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance has had a big week. First, it notched a monumental win on Monday when it monitored the Ingenuity helicopter’s first flight over the surface of the Red Planet.

Ok, Ingenuity only lifted 10 feet above the surface for a grand 40 seconds and then touched back down, but it’s still historical and the first time we’ve had lift off from the surface of Mars. Achieving flight is a huge first step in being able to further explore the Martian planet.

“We can now say human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Project Manager, said after they watched the footage of the flight capture by Perseverance.

The very next day, Perseverance scored another huge milestone when it successfully transformed the carbon-dioxide atmosphere of Mars into oxygen using its onboard MOXIE instrument. This will allow human life to breathe on Mars without solely depending upon the oxygen they bring from Earth. It’ll also help create propulsion for anyone looking to return to our home planet.

“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” Jim Reuter, the associate administrator of the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a released 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.”

After a couple-hour warmup, Perseverance got to work producing breathable oxygen. This took about an hour and when done the rover had 5.4 grams of oxygen. That’s enough to keep a human breathing for up to 10 minutes.

This was just an initial test. MOXIE is capable of making up to 10 grams of oxygen in an hour. They will conduct about 8 more tests over the next couple of years and will probably see it max out at 10 at some point.

Launching four astronauts off the surface of Mars requires somewhere in the ballpark of 25,000 pounds of oxygen. It’s a long runway but you have to start somewhere.