Having safely landed on Mars on Feb. 18, NASA’s newest rover, Perseverance, is just beginning its scientific exploration of the Red Planet. But sometime in the next few weeks, the car-size robot will also help pave the way for future humans to travel to our neighboring world with a small instrument known as the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE).
MOXIE, which will soon be pulling precious oxygen out of Mars’ poisonous atmosphere, is gold-colored and about the size of a bread box. It sits tucked away inside Perseverance’s chassis, where it will conduct the first demonstration on another planet of what’s known as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), meaning using local resources for exploration rather than bringing all the necessary materials from Earth.
NASA has long been interested in ISRU and put out a call for an oxygen-producing experiment when Perseverance was first being conceived, Eric Daniel Hinterman, an aerospace engineering doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of the MOXIE team, told Live Science.