A toaster-sized scientific instrument attached to NASA’s Perseverance rover just sucked up a bit of carbon dioxide from the surrounding Martian atmosphere and converted it into oxygen.
It’s a groundbreaking first that could lead to a future in which space travelers are not only able to generate air to breathe, but rocket fuel to get them back to Earth as well — while still on Mars.
The instrument, called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), is a technology demonstration that could eventually be scaled up to produce enough propellant to enable a crew of astronauts to take off from the surface of the Red Planet.
“This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), 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.”