Before shipping Perseverance to the Red Planet, NASA equipped the vehicle with a toaster-sized instrument called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE for short. This little yellow box soaks up carbon dioxide molecules (Mars’ atmosphere is 96% CO2) and distributes them, producing oxygen and, for better or worse, carbon monoxide.
MOXIE should emit 10 grams of oxygen per hour, but the unit only reached 5 grams in total during the first 2 hour expirament. That’s enough oxygen to keep someone alive for about 10 minutes. A larger version of the MOXIE unit would, in theory, produce oxygen at a rate more suited to our needs, or even produce the 27.5 tons of oxygen needed to power rockets leaving Mars to travel to the Earth. return to earth.
NASA says MOXIE heats up to 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius) during use. It’s getting so hot that NASA had to coat it with airgel to protect the Perseverance rover. Researchers may find an oxygen production method that uses less energy or produces less heat in the future, but for now, MOXIE is the best we have.
This new mission proves that we can create an environment for humans on Mars, although colonization is still very far away. Transporting a large MOXIE unit to Mars is currently impractical, and the energy required to run such a unit continuously would be difficult to find on the surface of Mars.