Did you know we were making oxygen on Mars?

Until reading this piece in The Atlantic, I was not aware of the fact that the Mars Perseverance rover has a device onboard, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—MOXIE, that has been generating oxygen on the red planet.

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—MOXIE. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Millions of miles away on Mars, in a barren crater just north of the equator, a rover is wandering around, carrying a gold-coated gadget the size of a toaster. The machine inhales the Martian air and strips away contaminants. It splits the atmospheric gas into constituent parts, takes what it needs, and then reassembles that blend to create something that is in very short supply on Mars: oxygen. Real, breathable oxygen, the kind you took in as you read these sentences.

After a bit of analysis, the machine puffs out the oxygen, harmlessly releasing the molecules into the Martian environment. The act makes this very sophisticated toaster, situated in the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover, the closest thing to a small tree on Mars.

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