We produced oxygen on Mars

We produced oxygen on Mars

We produced oxygen on Mars

Direct the planet Mars with Mathilde Fontez, editor-in-chief of the science magazine Epsilonfor a key Mars mission experiment, waiting for the Artemis mission, which was postponed last week, to finally take off on the moon.

franceinfo: Did NASA manage to produce oxygen on the red planet?

Matilde Fontez: 50 small grams of oxygen yes. This is little. This would only allow an astronaut to breathe for one hundred minutes. But that’s all. Prove it works: yes, it is possible to produce oxygen on the planet Mars. It will not be useless to go there – and this is the project: the Artemis mission which aims to send humans to the moon, according to NASA, is an intermediate phase.

And oxygen is a key point of the Martian mission: to give air to the astronauts, but not only. Also to push the module that will bring them back to Earth. Yes, oxygen is also a fuel. According to estimates, it takes 31 tons to launch 6 people from Mars. More breathing and maneuvering in space. The addition is salty: 500 tons will be needed for a full Martian mission. Hence the idea of ​​trying to produce oxygen on site.

Is it made from the Martian atmosphere?

From CO2, which makes up 95% of the red planet’s atmosphere. We could also produce oxygen with ice, this is the option chosen for example for the Moon, which has no atmosphere. But for Mars, CO2 is much more accessible: there is no need to collect it, transport it, dissolve it. it is available everywhere.

And technically, it’s quite simple to extract the oxygen atoms from a carbon dioxide molecule. It is done by electrolysis. The main constraint is that it must be heated to 800 degrees. But we had to verify that it really worked under Martian conditions.

MOXIE Lowered into Rover: Cleanroom technicians carefully lower the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) tool into the belly of the Perseverance rover.  (NASA / JPL-CALTECH)

Where did the idea for this test, made by NASA, come from?

This is the idea yes. The technology is called Moxie, it was developed by a team at MIT and inserted into the Perseverance rover, which arrived on Mars in 2021. As soon as the rover started working, Moxie began testing. And today the engineers at MIT take stock: it worked in all Martian conditions: the different seasons, night, day.

The device withstood temperature changes of over 100 degrees, changes in the density of the Martian air. Simply put, he held out. It was capable of producing 6 grams per hour. This is equivalent to producing a small tree.

We will have to change scale for the true Martian mission ?

Yes, it will take a system hundreds of times larger. But the engineers are confident. According to their calculations, the change in scale should actually make the process more efficient. It has therefore been demonstrated: this critical function – the production of oxygen – is now mastered. Now it remains to face all the other technical challenges of a manned mission to Mars …

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