MOXIE has now operated in a variety of conditions on Mars, both day and night, through all four seasons. The researchers expect that a version of the instrument approximately 100 times larger than MOXIE could potentially create breathable oxygen for future astronauts who visit the Red Planet. If explorers can’t make their own oxygen on Mars, supplies from Earth would take up valuable mass on a spacecraft. Furthermore, MOXIE’s products could also be used as an ingredient for rocket fuel — pretty crucial to ensuring the mission isn’t one-way. A rocket would need 33 to 50 tons (30 to 45 metric tons) of liquid oxygen propellant in order to launch humans off Mars. “This is the first demonstration of actually using resources on the surface of another planetary body, and transforming them chemically into something that would be useful for a human mission,” MOXIE deputy principal investigator Jeffrey Hoffman, a professor of the practice in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a former NASA astronaut, said in a statement. “It’s historic in that sense.”
The research has been published in the journal Science Advances.
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