Now, thanks to a machine called MOXIE, built by MIT and stowed away on NASA’s Perseverance rover, we can definitively say humans will be able to make oxygen on Mars.
In a paper published this week in Science Advances, investigators said seven, hour-long experimental runs throughout 2021 demonstrate that MOXIE can reliably convert carbon dioxide into a small tree’s worth of oxygen.
In tests spanning various temperatures and pressures, day and night, in winter and summer, the plucky machine steadily breathed in Martian atmosphere and breathed out at least six grams of oxygen an hour.
The machine then separates out the oxygen and expels the carbon monoxide, alongside other gases, as exhaust.
A future version, about the size of a “Small chest freezer,” would produce oxygen at a rate equivalent to several hundred trees.
“On Perseverance we use up to 300 watts to produce about 8 grams per hour of oxygen, which represents not much more than 10 percent efficiency relative to the amount of electrochemical power it actually takes to pull apart the CO2 molecule. We expect the full-scale system to be more like 90 percent efficient, based on detailed studies.”
Though some big questions have been answered, the team plans to continue testing MOXIE. They’ll run it at dusk and dawn, when Martian temperatures swing more wildly, push it to produce more oxygen, and carefully monitor wear and tear.