NASA's MOXIE instrument extracts double the expected oxygen in new test

The MOXIE instrument is designed to extract oxygen from Mars' thin atmosphere, paving the way for future human exploration.
Chris Young
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover.
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover.


NASA's Mars Perseverance rover has far surpassed its previous record for extracting oxygen from the Red Planet's thin atmosphere.

The rover's Mars Oxygen in Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) achieved the impressive new milestone earlier this month, according to a report.

In a new test, NASA was able to double the MOXIE experiment's previous oxygen production level.

NASA's MOXIE instrument breaks its own record

The new milestone could prove to be a crucial step toward eventual human exploration of the Red Planet.

"We got great results," Michael Hecht, MOXIE's principal investigator, told in an interview. NASA set out to produce 6 grams of oxygen an hour, but they were pleasantly surprised to produce much more than was expected from their latest experiment.

"This was the riskiest run we've done," Hecht said, adding that the experiment could have damaged the sensitive MOXIE instrument. "This could have gone wrong," he added.

NASA's MOXIE instrument extracts double the expected oxygen in new test
MOXIE before it was sent to Mars aboard Perseverance.

The latest experiment lasted 58 minutes, during which time MOXIE achieved a production rate of approximately 12 grams of oxygen per hour — roughly double what was expected.

"We rolled the dice a little bit. It was 'hold your breath and see what happens,'" Hecht explained.

How does NASA's MOXIE instrument work?

NASA's MOXIE instrument is a toaster-sized machine that was sent to Mars aboard NASA's Mars Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet's Jezero Crater on February 18, after a seven-month journey from Earth.

The instrument pumps Martian air into a reservoir where an electrochemical process removes an oxygen atom from each carbon dioxide molecule.

Once separated, oxygen ions are united again to create breathable oxygen, which MOXIE then analyzes to measure its purity and quantity. For the MOXIE experiment, the oxygen is then harmlessly released back into the Martian atmosphere.

The risk mentioned by Hecht comes from the fact that the solid carbon byproduct can build up inside the device, potentially bricking the machine.

MOXIE first drew oxygen from Mars' atmosphere in April 2021, only days after NASA also made history by flying the first off-world helicopter, called Ingenuity, which also flew aboard Perseverance.

Over the course of 2021, NASA went on to run a total of seven one-hour experiments. According to, funding for MOXIE is set to run out this year, meaning Hecht and his colleagues are now looking for new investment into the project.

There is still a lot we don't know about oxygen extraction on the Red Planet. As Hecht pointed out, "it's all about lifetime. 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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