"We rolled the dice a little bit. It was 'hold your breath and see what happens.'"
Rolling the Dice
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has crushed its previous record for turning the planet's thin atmosphere into a source of oxygen, an exciting experiment that could have major implications for our future plans to visit the Red Planet.
"We got great results," Michael Hecht, MOXIE's principal investigator, told Space.com. "This was the riskiest run we've done."
"This could have gone wrong," he added, explaining that the latest run could've damaged the sensitive instrument.
Over 58 minutes, MOXIE achieved a production rate of roughly 12 grams of oxygen an hour, about twice as much as was expected.
"We rolled the dice a little bit. It was 'hold your breath and see what happens,'" Hecht told Space.com.
The instrument works by pumping Martian air into a reservoir and then using an electrochemical process to rip an oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide molecule. The process isn't without risk, as the solid carbon byproduct can build up inside the device.
Over 2021, MOXIE ran one-hour experiments on seven occasions, even during the harsh Martian winter.
Unfortunately, funding for the experiment is set to run out by the end of the year, according to Space.com, meaning Hecht and his colleagues are now on the lookout for new collaborators.
It'd be a shame to stop the experiment short, as there are plenty of questions still to be answered. For now, the scientists are hoping to build Earth-based prototypes capable of generating enough oxygen for an entire mission to Mars.
"It's all about lifetime," Hecht told Space.com. "We run an hour at a time. To do this in the future we will have to run for 10,000 hours."
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