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A supply of oxygen is essential for a human presence on Mars, both supplying the astronauts with oxygen to breath and as rocket fuel. MOXIE stands for Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment and is an (NASA) experiment aiming to develop a sustainable oxygen production on Mars. The box weighs about 17.1 kilograms and has the capacity to produce approximately 10 grams oxygen an hour, according to NASA.
Michael Hecht, principal investigator on the MOXIE team, explained the thought behind future manned missions to Mars:
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.
Mars atmosphere is not very similar to ours, with 96% carbon dioxide and only 0.13 % oxygen, where Earth’s atmosphere consists of 21% oxygen as a comparison. It is clear that Mars atmosphere does not consist of enough oxygen, and therefore, a method to generate oxygen from carbon dioxide is vital for a human presence as only a limited amount can be brought from Earth. MOXIE might be offering a future solution on how to generate oxygen from carbon dioxide in an efficient way. However, to make a manned mission possible, the box has to be at least 100 times larger.
MOXIE is right now on the martian surface ready to be tested. In the episode of Crazy Engineering below, you can learn more about MOXIE and the benefits of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars, rather than bringing oxygen from Earth.