A NASA toaster-sized device can make oxygen on Mars

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is seen in a “selfie” taken on the planet in September 2021 (NASA) (Handout/)

If humans want to explore Mars in the future, they will need to create oxygen. Now, a small device the size of a toaster is on the planet doing just that.

In a study published this week in the journal Science Advancesthe researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology They showed that the In Situ Oxygen Resource Utilization Experiment on Mars -known as moxie– can make oxygen from carbon dioxide, abundant in Earth’s atmosphere Mars.

The experiment, which is part of the mission Perseverance Rover of the POT that landed on Mars in February 2021, it is the first time that another planet’s resources have been transformed into something useful for human missions, the researchers said. The little box, created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the POT and the MIT, produces enough oxygen to equal the production of a small tree on Earthand can do so during the day and night during multiple Martian seasons.

It’s what explorers have done since time immemorial“, said Jeffrey Hoffmanna former astronaut of the POT who is now deputy principal investigator for the mission moxie and professor of aerospace engineering at the MIT. “Find out what resources are available where you’re going and find out how to use them”.

Space agencies, scientists and entrepreneurs are crying out for humans to explore Mars. The long-awaited, and problematic, mission Artemis of the POT to the Moon is considered a stepping stone to explore Mars in the next decade or so. China hopes to put humans on the planet in 2033. Elon Muskthe richest person in the world and CEO of SpaceXhinted that he would do so in 2029.

But getting humans to come to Mars requires a number of complicated things, he said Hoffmann. Astronauts have to endure high levels of cosmic radiation during the long journey to the planet. The round trip to Mars it can last more than 8 months, so there has to be an ample supply of food and medicine for space travelers.

Perhaps the most important thing is oxygen, he said. Hoffmann. Astronauts need it to breathe in whatever temporary habitat they set up in Mars, as well as in the tanks of the space suits for when they are exploring the planet. It is also a crucial propellant to power the rocket they would need to return from Mars to Land.

Space agencies may be able to send Mars enough oxygen for astronauts to breathe and make the trip home, he said. Hoffmann, but doing so would be very expensive, as it would take multiple rocket launches to bring it back. Manufacture the oxygen Mars from carbon dioxide in its atmosphere would be cheaper, he said. (The atmosphere of Mars is about 96% carbon dioxide).

To test this ability, POT he carried a small golden box on his mission Perseverance Rover last year. From April 2021, moxie has performed several tests in which it produced oxygen during various times of the Martian day, and during different seasonal conditions. During each experiment, the box created approximately 6 grams of oxygen per hour, which is equivalent to the production of a modest tree in the Land. (In his most recent proof, to be published in a future article, Hoffmann said that the production of the machine increased to 10 grams per hour).

If the technology is to be mastered, scientists would have to greatly expand the size of the machine and ensure that it can run continuously. According to Hoffmannto maintain a human mission in Mars And to get people back, you’d have to create at least 3 to 3 pounds of oxygen per hour over a multi-year mission. “To do this you would have to multiply things by several hundred times“, said.

Currently, the machine can work for most of the Martian day, except for a few specific times.

The only thing we haven’t shown is that it works at dawn or dusk, when the temperature [en Marte] changes substantially“, said Michael Hechtmission principal investigator moxie in the Haystack Observatory of MIT. “We’ve got an ace up our sleeve that will allow us to do that, and once we test it in the lab, we’ll be able to hit that last milestone to show that we can actually work at any time.”.

Looking ahead, engineers plan to bring the device moxie to its limits, increasing its oxygen-producing capacity and making sure it works during the Martian spring, when the planet’s atmosphere is thick and carbon dioxide levels are very high. “We’ll put it all to the max and let it run as long as we can“, said Hecht.

Engineers will monitor the wear and tear on the machine and see if it can withstand enough stress to suggest that it can be turned into a full-scale system that can run continuously for thousands of hours. If so, the effects could be significant.

To support a human mission to Mars, we have to bring a lot of things from Earth“, said Hoffmann. “But silly old oxygen? If you can get there, go ahead: you’re way ahead”.

(C) The Washington Post.-


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