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You can soon take a deep breath on Mars!3 min read

January 25, 2021 3 min read


You can soon take a deep breath on Mars!3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rishi Jain

All Things Science

Putting people on Mars has long been a goal for space explorers, but so far, they had no idea if essentials such as food, water, oxygen, shelter were available there. Another thing to consider was the availability or production of a liquid oxygen propellant to return to earth. After decades at the drawing board, it looks like scientists are slowly finding the answer to that problem.

To set context. liquid oxygen is a common oxidizer propellant used in rockets, usually in combination with liquid hydrogen. kerosene or methane. This particular fuel was used to fuel the first liquid-fueled rocket!

We recently reported on how a company has just found a solution to our shelter issue on Mars. Well, now we have found a way to access oxygen on Mars, too! NASA’s recently launched Perseverance rover, which currently is on Mars, has a new tool onboard called MOXIE. This will be used intermittently throughout the Perseverance mission to simulate making oxygen on Mars.

How does MOXIE work?

Like trees that take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and make oxygen out of it, MOXIE also creates oxygen, but instead by separating carbon and oxygen from carbon dioxide. Moxie is still at the beginning stage and can create 10 grams of oxygen per hour, which is about the weight of your pencil. By comparison, a human being needs almost 10 times that per hour!

Scientists at NASA are continuing to advance this technology so that Moxie can soon produce oxygen at a higher capacity.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations
To launch off of Mars, human explorers need about 33 to 50 tons (30 to 45 metric tons) of fuel, about the weight of a Space Shuttle. MOXIE could help in producing the propellant, which includes liquid oxygen.

Are there other tools like MOXIE?

Yes, but they aren’t quite like MOXIE. Since only 0.13% of Mars’s atmosphere is made of oxygen, compared to 21% on Earth, the current MOXIE cannot be the only one producing it. As we said before, the oxygen production of the current version of MOXIE is very low compared to the amount we need, so the current version needs to be improved. It might also need a little bit of help from other discoveries.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations: MOXIE is short for Mars Oxygen In-Situation Resource Utilization Experiment. Moxie is also an English word meaning bold, adventurous, and enduring. It is also a name of a soft drink founded in the 1800s which claimed to have health benefits!.

Dr. Vijay Ramani, an Indian scientist from Washington University has discovered that oxygen can be extracted from saltwater lakes on Mars. He has created an electrolysis system called the Martian brine electrolyzer that can extract oxygen from water.

Does this mean we can all move to Mars?

Well, not quite yet. NASA will now start testing the new technology extensively on Mars. And let’s also not forget that there is still no known source of water and food!

So let’s enjoy some naturally-created oxygen and popcorn while we await the world’s new technologies to make survival on Mars possible.


Author’s Note: Rishi is a 7th grader and basketball fan. He has a sports YouTube channel with 50 subscribers and aspires to make it 1M someday. He likes watching space launches, reading about building rockets.

(All Things Science is a weekly column on astronomy, space and science)