NASA is set to launch the Perseverance rover from Florida tomorrow, providing the weather holds out. And while the rover’s main task is to search for signs of life, it will also help prepare for humanity’s inevitable arrival.
This is because Perseverance will test a process for creating oxygen from carbon dioxide – something which is in abundance in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
The equipment is known as the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), and, according to NASA, “will demonstrate a way that future explorers might produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for propellant and for breathing.”
MOXIE works in the same way as a tree – it breathes in carbon dioxide and emits oxygen, the opposite process to animals, including humans.
According to Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary science of Purdue University, and Melissa Rice, associate professor of planetary science at Western Washington University, this will be key for human exploration.
The duo wrote in The Conversation: “Perseverance will help prepare for future human missions to Mars.
“One of many challenges for astronauts will be the packing list for a two-year roundtrip journey, which includes air, water and rocket fuel to get home.
“If these resources could be harvested on Mars, human missions would be much more feasible.
“Perseverance will test a process for creating oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide atmosphere.
“In the future, similar instruments could be sent ahead of astronauts, so that breathable air and liquid oxygen rocket propellant are waiting when they arrive.”
MOXIE on the Perseverance rover will only be about the size of a car battery.
However, if the tests prove successful and similar equipment is sent to Mars alongside humans, the machines would need to be about 100 times larger.
Not only could MOXIE help ensure humans survive on Mars, but it will also help to facilitate astronauts’ journey back to Earth from the Red Planet.
Michael Hecht, NASA’s principal investigator for the Perseverance rover, said: “When we send humans to Mars, we will want them to return safely, and to do that they need a rocket to lift off the planet.
“Liquid oxygen propellant is something we could make there and not have to bring with us.
“One idea would be to bring an empty oxygen tank and fill it up on Mars.”
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