NASA's Mars 2020 Rover, which is targeted to launch in July 2020, will conduct geological examinations on its landing site on Mars. It aims to determine if the Red Planet provides a habitable environment and whether there had been past or even present extraterrestrial life on the planet.
However, one of the aims of the Mars 2020 is to lay the foundation for future human exploration with its MOXIE, Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment. The device will produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide atmosphere of the Red Planet at a rate of an estimated 0.35 ounces (10 grams) per hour.
"The object is not to produce a lot of oxygen. The object is to show that the process works on Mars. MOXIE produces only about 10 [grams] per hour of oxygen, less than one percent of full scale," said Donald Rapp, one of the designers of the device. He added that MOXIE is just one of nine devices on the Mars 2020 Rover, but it's the most essential for human exploration.
According to previous data gathered from Mars, its atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide. So, MOXIE is tasked to inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, just like what plants and trees do on Earth. Basically, the device will gather carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, store it and will electrochemically divide the molecules into carbon monoxide and dioxygen.
Meanwhile, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a novel spectroscopic technique that may help the Mars 2020 Rover to locate and find signs of present or past extraterrestrial life on the Red Planet.
The technique will help the rover analyze and identify sediments from the planet without compromising its pristine condition. This will allow scientists to identify signs of former life. Maintaining the original composition of sediments is important to make sure data is not altered and the sediments are of their original composition.
"This may help in deciding what samples the 2020 rover will archive. It will be looking for organic matter preserved in sediments, and this will allow a more informed selection of samples for potential return to Earth," said Roger Summons, professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences at MIT.