NASA Perseverance rover pulls breathable oxygen from air on Mars

Science

CNET 23 April, 2021 - 01:30pm 26 views

A day after flying a tiny helicopter on another planet, the team behind NASA's Perseverance rover achieved another big first on Mars. The vagabonding science lab managed to pull a bit of oxygen out of the Martian atmosphere, which is about 96% carbon dioxide.

The rolling robot carries an experimental instrument about the size of a toaster called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, known as Moxie, and on Tuesday it succeeded in peeling the oxygen atoms off molecules of carbon dioxide to create oxygen.

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"This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars," Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars."

Reuter adds that similar technology could be used to create rocket propellant and breathable air for future explorers.

In its first run, Moxie extracted about five grams of oxygen, or the equivalent of around 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen for one person. The device is designed to create up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour, so you wouldn't want to rely on it for your survival, but NASA hopes that more powerful successors could be used to produce many tons of oxygen over their lifetimes.

Here's a look at Moxie's innards.

The plan is for Moxie to extract oxygen at least nine more times during the first two years of the rover's journey.

Moxie's principal investigator, Michael Hecht, says the team will introduce "new wrinkles, such as a run where we compare operations at three or more different temperatures." He adds that they "will try running the experiment under different conditions, times of day and seasons. ... We'll push the envelope."

Bottom line: When astronauts take their first breaths of locally produced oxygen on Mars, they may have this gold, toaster-size gadget to thank.

Read full article at CNET

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It's the second successful technology demonstration on the mission, which flew a mini-helicopter on Monday.

The oxygen generation was performed by a toaster-sized unit in the rover called Moxie - the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment.

It made 5 grams of the gas - equivalent to what an astronaut at Mars would need to breathe for roughly 10 minutes.

Nasa's thinking is that future human missions would take scaled-up versions of Moxie with them to the Red Planet rather than try to carry from Earth all the oxygen needed to sustain them.

Oxygen (O₂) is also an integral part of the chemistry that propels a rocket. Thrust is achieved by burning a fuel in the presence of an oxidiser, which could be simple oxygen.

Mars' atmosphere is dominated by carbon dioxide (CO₂) at a concentration of 96%. Oxygen is only 0.13%, compared with 21% in Earth's atmosphere.

Moxie is able to strip oxygen atoms from CO₂ molecules, which are made up of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. The waste product is carbon monoxide, which is vented to the Martian atmosphere.

The Nasa team behind Moxie is running the unit in different modes to discover how well it works.

The expectation is that it can produce up to 10 grams of O₂ per hour.

“Moxie isn’t just the first instrument to produce oxygen on another world, it’s the first technology of its kind that will help future missions 'live off the land', using elements of another world’s environment, also known as in-situ resource utilisation,” said Trudy Kortes, director of technology demonstrations within Nasa’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

"It’s taking regolith, the substance you find on the ground, and putting it through a processing plant, making it into a large structure, or taking carbon dioxide – the bulk of the atmosphere – and converting it into oxygen. This process allows us to convert these abundant materials into useable things: propellant, breathable air, or, combined with hydrogen, water."

The mini-chopper made history this week by performing the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world.

For its second sortie, the drone will raise itself to 5m above the ground, move sideways by 2m, swivel and take some pictures, before reversing back to the take-off spot to land.

President Biden says the US will halve its emissions by the end of the decade.

15 sayings from around the world

Lynn Hummel column: 300 million miles from reality | Detroit Lakes Tribune

Detroit Lakes Tribune 19 April, 2021 - 06:49pm

I believe in the science that tells us we have a limited time for dealing with the problems of climate change. I believe in the science that tells us how to deal with the sickness and death of the coronavirus pandemic and the continuing need for masks, social distancing and vaccinations. I own a Fauci Fan Club coffee mug. I believe we ignore science at our hazard.

But I do not believe in the science of the NASA Mars Perseverance Mission. I believe it is 300 million miles and $2.98 billion dollars from reality.

On July 30, 2020 NASA launched a space rocket with a car-sized rover payload named “Percy” headed for the Red Planet Mars. The rover, flying at 24,000 miles an hour, arrived on Mars, 300 million miles from earth, seven months later on February 18, 2021. The project, started in 2013, will cost $2.7 billion, up to $2.9 billion with inflation, plus an additional $80 million for the design and construction of an “ingenuity” helicopter and $5 million for 30 days of helicopter operation.

The goal of the Perseverance project is to determine whether the Mars environment is capable of supporting life and to test whether oxygen is produced or can be produced on Mars to prepare for the future of human life there. The vehicle is equipped with seven payload instruments, nine cameras and two microphones to collect rocks, sift soil samples and dust to bring back to earth for analysis. The temperature on Mars drops to -130°, so oxygen is questionable and gravity is almost non-existent.

But there is the underlying optimism that humans can live anywhere by persevering and not giving up to conditions we presently consider to be unlivable.

My question: Is it really necessary to do this or are we just scientifically curious?

Private non-government curiosity is also interested in Mars. Elon Musk, one of the wealthiest individuals on earth, has what he calls the SpaceX Program featuring a 165 foot long Starship being developed in his south Texas facility. Musk says it is possible to a launch spaceship to Mars every 26 months when the earth is aligned with Mars and that the next opportunity will be in 2024. He says the cost of sending the first humans to Mars will be $6.85 billion (5 billion pounds) per person. He proposes to colonize Mars with human beings. He says there is a 70% chance he’ll go to Mars during his lifetime. He is 49 years old.

Mars does have an atmosphere by the way, but it is 100 times thinner than earth’s atmosphere and it has very little oxygen. An astronaut on Mars (or a private citizen) would not be able to breathe air without a space suit (including thick mittens for the -130° chill).

I salute Musk’s curiosity, but I’d rather see him throw his money away than have NASA continue this pie-in-the-sky scheme spending taxpayer money on it. Musk says the option to colonize Mars would be a “lifeboat strategy” to avoid annihilation of the human race due to a wipe-out disaster that destroys human life on earth.

What a crock. How would you like to sit in the middle seat in a space ship on a seven month flight to Mars?

There will never be a colony of human beings on Mars. While the space program has produced many spin-off benefits: weather forecasting through satellites, mapping the earth, traffic direction and safety, the Hubble space telescope, advances in health and wellness, space study, high tech jobs, cultural depth and inspiration to name a few – there must be limits.

Further exploration directed at occupying Mars is past the point of diminishing returns. April 22 is Earth Day. Instead of blowing more bucks on the dream trip to Mars, we should dedicate funds to patching up our damaged earth.

Besides the need for dealing with human poverty, hunger and disease, we need to seriously address climate change. How long can we endure more floods, hurricanes, tornados, melting glaciers, rising seas, rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, dangerous weather patterns, and the rest of the damage?

We can’t trash the earth, leave it as a loaded landfill, then move to another globe to start all over. I believe that in the scheme of things, it was planned that there was only one place where people can live and that is the planet earth.

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