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Monday, May 29, 2023

MOXIE On Mars: Off-Earth Oxygen Production Paving The Way For Interplanetary Culture

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Guest Contributor
Guest Contributor
Submissions from guest writers and collaborators

UNITED STATES: In early April, NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter became the first-ever aircraft to effectuate a controlled flight on another planet. On April 21st, NASA announced another milestone achievement of the Perseverance rover as MOXIE extracted oxygen from Mars for the first time.

Read also: Perseverance Begins Journey To Mars

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“There is a reason why oxygen tanks are the heaviest items on a spaceflight manifest,” said Michael Hecht, MOXIE Principal investigator and Director of Research at MIT Haystack Observatory. In-situ oxygen production is a milestone achievement towards ensuring fulfillment of future cross-planetary missions in off-Earth environments as reducing the volume weight for transportation is a priority.

Technological advances like the McKinsey direct air capture (DAC) and the world’s first mechanical tree prototype are critical to addressing climate change. Now, knowing that MOXIE has been under idea and development for more than a decade, it is time to underline that space exploration is our answer to many problems on Earth as MOXIE operates as a large mechanical tree.

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Developed by the conjoint effort of MIT’s Haystack Observatory, AeroAstro, and JPL, MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment) is a toaster-size box-shaped device installed on the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover.

As the atmosphere of Mars contains up to 96% of carbon dioxide (CO2), MOXIE is to electrochemically split it into oxygen and carbon monoxide molecules. As the process reaches a temperature of approximately 1,470° Fahrenheit (800° Celsius), the device is made with 3D-printed nickel alloy components to heat and cool gases flowing through it; a lightweight aerogel that helps hold in the heat; and, a thin gold coating to reflect infrared heat, protecting the rest of Perseverance from potentially damaging radiation.

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While MOXIE’s power supply is limited to roughly 12 g/hr, the first attempt produced 5.4 grams of oxygen in an hour, which would give 10 minutes of breathable air to maintain healthy a single astronaut. Over a Martian year (nearly two years on Earth), MOXIE will have to total at least ten such extractions in diverse conditions. Future versions of MOXIE will aim at upscaling the size of the box to at least 10 times the current size.

The Principal Investigator (PI) Michael Hecht from the MIT Haystack Observatory nailed the project’s name inspired by the success story of Moxie soda, a local Massachusetts 1800s brand, and the cultural meaning behind the word moxie.

On the one hand, Moxie soda was a nerve-calming tonic that became successful due to the introduction of CO2 in its production process, converting it into one of the first mass-produced carbonated drinks in the U.S. On the other hand, moxie as a word invaded the American lexicon as a synonym for a daring and envigorated attitude, pep, courage, determination, and know-how. Moxie was also associated with the 1990s riot grrrl movement, reinvented in productions such as Moxie, a Netflix 2021 film based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, or the Moxie Girlz fashion dolls under the motto “be true! be you!”

Last, but not least, to bring further evidence on how, moxie is present in American culture over any other culture as seen by global trademark research performed on April 24th, 2021. The trademark research returned 766 findings, 475 scoring in the United States and the second-largest number being that of 40 in Canada. Also, the highest-ranking search on Google Keywords returned moxie in the combination Moxie Movie, which, funny enough is right now being screened on Netflix.


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