When the first astronauts land on Mars, they may have the offspring of a device the size of a microwave oven to thank for the air they breathe and the oxygen destined for the ship’s propulsion system that will take them back home. This device, called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment), produced oxygen for the sixteenth and final time aboard NASA’s Perseverance robotic rover. After the oxygen generator was significantly more successful in its pioneering work than its inventors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had expected, its operation was stopped.
MOXIE’s impressive performance demonstrates that it is possible to extract oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for use in the applications discussed. This would avoid transporting oxygen from Earth, which is needed in large quantities.
Since Perseverance landed on Mars in 2021, MOXIE has produced a total of 122 grams of oxygen, which is about the amount a small dog breathes in 10 hours. It may not seem like much, but this version of the device was built solely to test the technology’s proper functioning. At full capacity, MOXIE was capable of producing 12 grams of oxygen per hour (twice the maximum output NASA originally set for the instrument) with a purity of 98% or greater.
In its last session, MOXIE produced 9.8 grams of oxygen. The device has therefore successfully fulfilled its mission and achieved all technical goals.
During an entire Martian year (687 Earth days), MOXIE operated on a variety of occasions and under very different conditions, allowing the device’s developers to thoroughly test the validity of their technology.
MOXIE creates molecular oxygen through an electrochemical process that separates an oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide molecule pumped from the thin Martian atmosphere. As these gases flow through the system, they are analyzed for purity and amount of oxygen produced.