We Asked a NASA Technologist: Is There Oxygen on Mars? [Video]

This artist’s concept depicts astronauts and human habitats on Mars. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will carry a number of technologies that could make Mars safer and easier to explore for humans. Credit: NASA

Is there oxygen on Mars? Yes, Mars has oxygen but not very much and definitely not enough to just go out and breathe on the surface of Mars. NASA engineer Asad Aboobaker tells us more.

The density of the oxygen on Mars is about 1/10,000th of what we have here on Earth. But Mars’ atmosphere does have a lot of carbon dioxide — about 500 times more CO2 than oxygen. If we want to harvest oxygen on Mars for use by future explorers or launch systems, a better way might be to pull some of it out of the CO2 and use that instead. That’s where MOXIE comes in.

MOXIE is a technology on NASA’s Perseverance rover, and it has proven for the very first time that we can extract oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. It’s a technology demonstration so it only produces a small amount of oxygen. For future human exploration, we would need to send a scaled-up version, maybe 200 times larger than the current MOXIE.

If such a system landed on Mars, some of this would provide oxygen for the astronauts to breathe but most of it would be used as rocket propellant to get astronauts off the surface of Mars and back to Earth.

So, is there oxygen on Mars? Not much, but that’s okay because we can make it ourselves.