Breathable Air on Mars

You know that there is a promise from the astronomy world to get humans to Mars within a decade… Achieving this will be one of the greatest accomplishment in the history of astronomy/space/science. 

Its a long road ahead before that accomplishment. And one of the essential part of this journey is breathable air, Oxygen. 

Scientist from across the word is on to this.  Let’s start with what NASA has in its books. 

In 2020’s Mars rover mission, NASA is planning to attach a small instrument whose volume is 23.9cmsx23.9cmsx30.9cms called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resources Utilization Experiment) to produce oxygen by using the carbon dioxide present in the Martian atmosphere. This device would be able to produce 10 grams of oxygen per hour. Its planned to be scheduled to run every two hours per experiment intermittently over the course of its mission. 

Source: NASA

MOXIE is simply going to do what a tree does. Take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.
Why is NASA doing this? Well, for couple of reasons. 

  1. For it’s 2030 human mission’s breathable air. 
  2. The spacecraft that would get humans to Mars may not have to carry extra payload. They can use the oxygen as an oxidizer for their trip back to Earth. Yes, as a rocket fuel. 

NASA also has plans to generate rocket fuel itself (which is Methane) on Mars using Martian materials, this is a first step in achieving a bigger picture.

If everything goes planned, 2020 Rover will unlock lots of Martian secrets, may be even discover ways, where its not complicated to produce oxygen nor rocket fuel. 

After all, science is a mesmerizing mystery. 

While this is being cooked up on one side, researchers from Caltech in Pasadena explains how comets generate oxygen which could potentially be used to generate breathable air on Mars. 

They studied that comets produce oxygen two ways, 

  1. Kinetic Energy. When comet is moving at its speed and cross paths solar wind, it can push water molecules into comet’s surface at high speed. If there are oxygen containing compounds on the surface, it can rip oxygen molecules off and produce molecular oxygen. ie, breathable air. 
  2. Another way molecular oxygen could be produced is by carbon dioxide reactions. If one crashes carbon dioxide onto a gold foil at a high speed, the gold surface emits molecular oxygen. This was achieved by former Caltech postdoctoral fellow Yunxi Yao and current Caltech chemical engineering professor Konstantinos Giapis. They smashed carbon dioxide into gold foil by electrically charging each carbon dioxide molecule and then accelerated them using an electric field producing molecular oxygen. 

Using this concept, one can build a reactor that could generate breathable air on Mars one day. Who knows. As I said earlier, Science is mysterious. Anything could be achieved one day if it all fits.


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