NASA's MOXIE could make breathing on Mars a reality. The new invention of the space agency can extract oxygen on Mars: it can be an important turning point for future explorations on the red planet.
Mars' atmosphere makes breathing impossible: it is only 1% dense than that on Earth. Not a good start for colony projects on the red planet, between those drawn from independent groups (complete with cities) to that which Elon Musk is working on.
What if it was possible to somehow obtain oxygen on Mars?
The importance of being MOXIE
“What breathes the most in a mission to Mars? Not the people, ”he says Michael Hecht, Principle Investigator of the NASA MOXIE project. And what then? We wonder. The answer is ready: “It's the rocket that will take you home from Mars”. Quite right.
This is why NASA's MOXIE (which I have introduced you for the first time last December) will be essential once completed. Astronauts traveling to Mars have a hard time bringing about 25 tons of oxygen to Mars from Earth. Also because, apart from this, the space crew also needs almost 7 tons of fuel.
How does MOXIE get oxygen on Mars?
First, the introductions: good evening, my name is MOXIE, and I was developed by MIT. The acronym, very simple, comes from "MARS OXIGEN IN SITU". Oxygen on Mars. They are essentially a specialized reverse fuel cell that primarily consumes electricity to produce oxygen on Mars. NASA explained that I use a method called solid oxide electrolysis, and on balance that's what I do.
In the image you see above, provided by NASA, the Perseverance rover fires the engines of the descent stage as it approaches the Martian surface to land in the area known as the Jezero Crater on Mars. A key focus for the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life.
During the first phase, MOXIE will filter and pump Martian carbon dioxide into a compressor. The compressor will do what it has to do: it will compress the air to Earth's sea level pressures. Next, the NASA equipment will send compressed carbon dioxide to the 10-cell solid oxide electrolysis stack. Result? Oxygen on Mars.
The core of MOXIE: the electrolysis stack
Asad AboobakerMOXIE project collaborator and instrument systems engineer explains that MOXIE's electrolysis system is the key to transforming Mars' air into oxygen. The MOXIE electrolysis stack consists of various specialized metal-ceramic cells. They conduct electricity using oxygen ions when the equipment is heated to high temperatures. Aboobaker explained that an applied voltage allows MOXIE to selectively drive oxygen ions. After this process, oxygen will be generated.