NASA’s proposed human mission to Mars has received a big boost. The agency has claimed to detect breathable oxygen on the Red Planet. This is the first time when such a discovery has been made on the planet. The landmark discovery was made by the Perseverance rover. NASA said that rover’s instrument has successfully converted some thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into oxygen. The instrument is called Moxie. It is a toaster-sized unit in the rover. It made 5 grams of the gas into oxygen. This amount of oxygen is equivalent to what a human will need to breathe on Mars for approximately 10 minutes. NASA said that the oxygen generation task is a demonstration of technology that will help in preparing for human missions.
NASA noted that the technology could be used to store oxygen on the planet. The planet’s atmosphere comprises 96 percent of CO2. The agency said that Moxie is capable of generating up to 10 grams of oxygen in an hour. NASA has termed it a critical step as it takes forward the human exploration plan. It said that Moxie has more tasks to perform on the planet. The instrument works by separating oxygen atoms from molecules of CO2. CO2 is made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. The conversion procedure required high levels of heat, reaching 800 degrees Celsius. The instrument is made using heat-tolerant materials that heat and cool the gases. There is a thin gold coating that reflects infrared heat and protects other parts of the rover.
According to NASA’s plan, Moxie will extract oxygen on Mars at least nine more times in the next two Earth years. Perseverance landed on Mars in February. It is the most advanced rover ever developed by any agency including NASA. NASA is also the only space agency that has landed and operated multiple rovers. Perseverance’s main objective is to search for signs of microbial life on Mars which has emerged as the most promising destination for life beyond Earth. NASA has also tested the first controlled flight of a mini-helicopter in the Martian atmosphere. The helicopter is named Ingenuity. The demonstration of new technology will redefine humans’ approach towards Mars.