NASA’s next Mars rover, scheduled for launch in 2020, will carry tools that can produce oxygen out of Martian carbon dioxide. The space agency aims to see if Martian air could be converted into oxygen for astronauts to breathe. NASA plans to take humans to Mars in 2030s. Oxygen is also a key ingredient of rocket fuel. So, it could also be used to make rocket fuel. Taking fuel to the red planet for return flights will be heavy and expensive.

NASA’s 2020 rover to have seven special instruments

The oxygen-producing device is called the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE). ISRU stands for “in situ research utilization.” It has been designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. NASA has sent multiple robotic vehicles to the red planet, the latest being Curiosity which was launched in 2012. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator at NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said in a statement that the 2020 rover will test technologies that astronauts will need to land on, explore and return from the Mars. It will also help answer questions about the red planet’s environment that astronauts will face.

NASA Mars 2020 Rover

NASA scientists have picked six other instruments as well from 58 proposals that the research firm received in January this year. Combined cost of the seven instruments is estimated at $130 million while the 2020 Mars rover will cost a whopping $1.9 billion. One of the instruments is an advanced camera system called “MastCam-Z.” It will capture panoramic images and photos of the same image from different angles. The camera will help researchers determine the mineralogy of the red planet’s surface.

NASA wants to figure out the chemical composition of Martian surface

The rover will also carry an instrument called “SuperCam.” It will capture images that will help scientists analyze the chemical composition of Martian soil. Another instrument is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer named “Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry.” It will take high-resolution images to find out details about elements on the Martian surface.

Yet another instrument will detect organic compounds using an ultraviolet laser. The sixth instrument called “Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer” will measure wind speed and direction, temperature, atmospheric humidity, pressure and the size of Martian dust. The seventh instrument “The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Exploration” will study the geologic structure, NASA said.