NASA’s Perseverance rover, formerly known as just the Mars 2020 rover, will do quite a bit more than merely drive around on Mars snapping photographs and drilling into the planet’s surface. It will also carry a unique experiment to the red planet dubbed the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE for short.
MOXIE is a golden box that will be safely tucked away inside the rover’s chassis, and it will attempt to convert minute amounts of Mars’ atmospheric carbon dioxide into pure, breathable oxygen. It will work by taking advantage of solid oxide electrolysis to rip an oxygen atom away from existing carbon dioxide molecules, resulting in carbon monoxide, oxygen, and other byproducts.
Mars’ atmosphere is approximately 95% carbon dioxide, so there’s plenty of gas available to be converted into oxygen. Unfortunately, MOXIE will only produce small amounts of oxygen – around six grams per hour – or just enough to keep a small dog alive. Additionally, MOXIE won’t be operational all the time, as Perseverance will need to conserve energy for other and more essential scientific operations.
If successful, MOXIE could prove once and for all that it’s possible to generate enough oxygen to support human life on Mars. This would be essential if we were ever to send astronauts to live on the red planet for long periods of time. That said, it will be interesting to see how MOXIE pans out and how its processes will impact future Martian science.