Nasa extracts breathable oxygen from thin Martian air

Nasa has logged another extraterrestrial first on its latest mission to Mars converting CO2 from the Martian atmosphere into pure, breathable oxygen, the US space agency said on Wednesday.

The unprecedented extraction of oxygen, literally out of nothingness on Mars, was achieved Tuesday by an experimental device aboard Perseverance, a six-wheeled science rover that landed on the Mars February 18 after a seven-month journey from Earth. 

In its first activation, the toaster-sized instrument dubbed MOXIE, short for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, produced about 5 grams of oxygen, like roughly 10 minutes' worth of breathing for an astronaut, Nasa said. Although the initial output was modest, the feat marked the primary experimental extraction of a natural resources from the environment of another planet for direct use by humans.

"MOXIE is not just the primary instrument to supply oxygen on another world," Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within Nasa's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said during a statement. She called it the primary technology of its kind to assist future missions "live off the land" of another planet.

The instrument works through electrolysis, which uses extreme heat to separate oxygen atoms from molecules of CO2 , which accounts for about 95% of the atmosphere on Mars.

The remaining 5% of Mars' atmosphere, which is merely about 1% as dense Earth's, consists primarily of molecular nitrogen and argon. Oxygen exists on Mars in negligible trace amounts.

But an abundant supply is taken into account critical to eventual human exploration of the Mars , both as a sustainable source of breathable air for astronauts and as a necessary ingredient for rocket propellant to fly them home.

The volumes required for launching rockets into space from Mars are particularly daunting.

According to Nasa, getting four astronauts off the Martian surface would take about 15,000 pounds (7 metric tons) of rocket propellant , combined with 55,000 pounds (25 metric tons) of oxygen.

and scientists decide to run the machine a minimum of another ninefold over subsequent two years under different conditions and speeds, Nasa said.

The first oxygen conversion run came each day after Nasa achieved the historic first controlled powered flight of an aircraft on another planet with a successful takeoff and landing of a miniature robot helicopter on Mars.

Like MOXIE, the twin-rotor chopper dubbed Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars with Perseverance, whose primary mission is to look for fossilized traces of ancient microbes which will have flourished on Mars billions of years ago.

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