Man will go to Mars sooner or later. And judging by the most recent studies, forecasts no longer tell us about a hypothetical journey, but about something that could happen sooner than we think. Just think of the incredible work of SpaceX, the space agency headed by Elon Musk and which is already working on a rocket-spaceship capable of landing on the Red Planet. Or the Artemis project back to the Moon, a mission considered in some way “preparatory” to the possible launch to Mars and on which NASA intends to invest mind-boggling figures (we are talking about about 93 billion dollars).
And while Elon Musk dreams of “colonizing” the Red Planet and Artemis continues to encounter technical problems and postpone launches (for the next one we are talking about October 2022, barring further unforeseen events), a new perspective is emerging that could really change everything: NASA has found a way to produce oxygen on Mars.
Oxygen can be produced on Mars
In the (increasingly palpable) hypothesis that man goes to Mars, the first and essential problem naturally jumps to the eye: to survive it would need oxygen. The atmosphere of the Red Planet is very different from that of Earth, with quantities of oxygen that would not be enough to sustain a human life: compared to our 21%, on Mars there is only 0.16% of oxygen.
In addition to scheduling Artemis’ launches to the moon, NASA continues to study the Red Planet. And while ESA and Roscomos (the European and Russian space agencies) have ascertained the presence of hitherto hidden water, a small instrument peeps out at ISRU technology (In Situ Resource Utilization) that could change everything. Why some tests conducted in 2021 and recently disclosed in the magazine Science Advancesconfirm that oxygen can be produced in the Martian atmosphere.
How MOXIE works
Giving some more information on the device were Michael Hecht, principal researcher of the project based at MIT, and Jeffrey Hoffman, aerospace engineer at MIT and former NASA astronaut, and deputy to Hecht. MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) it is a rather small instrument and has been shown to be able to produce 6 grams of oxygen per hour, according to test data carried out by NASA. Practically works at the same speed as a small treewhich seems small but is not at all.
The oxygen production mechanism of MOXIE it works like this: the device first compresses and heats carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Mars to nearly 1,500 ° F, breaking it down into oxygen ions and carbon monoxide; it then recombines the ions to create gaseous oxygen, which has a double function. On the one hand it would allow humans to breathe, on the other hand it would also act as fuel to power rockets.
The NASA project
NASA thanks to MOXIE opens the doors to one truly exciting prospect. The operation of the device is not only capable of potentially providing the astronauts with the oxygen to breathe and survive on Mars, but the fuel necessary for the eventual return trip to Earth. This also translates into substantial economic savings: oxygen could be sent to Mars directly from our planet, but the costs would be unsustainable. Suffice it to say that to power a rocket you need ten times more oxygen than that which could allow 4 to 6 astronauts to survive on the Red Planet for 18 months.
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