MOXIE, NASA's Historic Oxygen-producing Experiment On Mars Concludes Operations
MOXIE, NASA's historic oxygen-producing experiment on Mars concludes operations after successfully extracting 5 grams of oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. This achievement, which happened on April 20, 2021, showcased the potential for establishing a human presence on the Red Planet and, potentially, on other celestial bodies with different atmospheres than Earth's.
"By proving this technology in real-world conditions, we’ve come one step closer to a future in which astronauts 'live off the land' on the Red Planet," said Trudy Kortes, the director of technology demonstrations at the Space Technology Mission Directorate, in a NASA release announcing the experiment’s conclusion.
Just as the Ingenuity helicopter was dispatched as a technological showcase to validate powered, controlled flight capabilities on other celestial bodies, MOXIE served a similar purpose by demonstrating how human technology can aid our species in surviving beyond Earth.
MOXIE, short for the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, exemplified the concept of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), which involves the vital utilization of local materials in space to sustain human existence. Whether it's extracting water from lunar regolith or oxygen from Mars' inhospitable atmosphere, ISRU presents a more practical approach to establishing life off-Earth compared to transporting everything required from our home planet.
MOXIE embarked on its journey to Mars aboard the Perseverance rover in February 2021. Within three months, it successfully extracted oxygen for the first time, a feat it replicated an additional 15 times during its mission.
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The experiment employs electrochemical processes to separate oxygen from Mars' carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. In total, MOXIE produced 122 grams of oxygen on Mars - roughly equivalent to what a small dog breathes in over 10 hours, as indicated in the same release.
MOXIE has clearly served as an inspiration to the ISRU community. It showed NASA is willing to invest in these kinds of future technologies. And it has been a flagship that has influenced the exciting industry of space resources.- Michael Hecht, the deputy project director of the Event Horizon Telescope and MOXIE’s principal investigator
While MOXIE primarily served as a technology demonstration, it effectively illustrates the potential and inevitability of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) in extraterrestrial environments. Emerging mission concepts are introducing innovative ways for humans to optimize these environments for scientific exploration and other applications, such as mining. The Moon takes center stage in NASA's Artemis missions, representing the next destination.
Although there are currently no immediate plans for a follow-up to the oxygen-producing MOXIE experiment, it lays a solid foundation for future technology demonstrations. Even if future projects bear different names, the essence of audacity and determination, or "moxie," remains an indispensable ingredient for any space endeavor.