It’s official: NASA is taking the whole Mars adventure pretty seriously. Why? Simply because the new Mars 2020 Rover is a real wonder. In more than one sense.
The most amazing of the instruments packed on the tiny six-wheeled rover is certainly the MOXIE, short for Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment. This is the device that can convert the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere into oxygen, and make it breathable for a future human colony.
“This is a real step forward in helping future human exploration of Mars by being able to produce your oxygen on the surface of Mars.” (Michael Meyer, Mars Exploration Program, NASA)
“By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth. And a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it.” (Barak Obama, Kennedy Space Center, April 15, 2010)
If you look at its appearance, there’s not a lot of room for amazement. Mars 2020 looks a lot like its highly successful predecessor, Curiosity, and will likely be delivered in the same spectacular way. It’s the amazing range and scope of the instruments it embeds that makes it so special and perfectly suited for the ambitious objectives of its mission. Namely, searching for signs of Martian life (actual and not only past, as Curiosity does) and preparing for future human colonisation of the planet. Nothing less.
“If you can actually cache and put oxygen in storage tanks before the crew even arrives and you know they have a habitable environment and place to go when they get there, that’s tremendously important to us. MOXIE (…) will make sure that we understand the risks associated with that, and we can do the appropriate planning as we move forward for human missions.” (Bill Gersteinmaier, Human Exploration and Operations Mission, NASA)
The mission of Mars 2020 is a milestone in human colonisation of Mars. In future missions, not only astronauts will breathe some of the oxygen produced in loco by similar instruments, but part of it will also be stored for rocket use, allowing a cheaper launch of spacecrafts from the surface of the Red Planet. NASA expects to be able to generate rocket fuel components – like methane – from Martian rocks, in what will start looking like a self-sustained colony.
Photo Credit: NASA