New Oxygen machine will let astronauts live on Mars

(The Express News 31 may 2000)

NASA scientists have successfully tested a machine capable of extracting oxygen from the dusty atmosphere of Mars.

Such a device will be needed if astronauts are to spend the year or more on the Martian surface that would be part of any manned mission to the Red Planet.

The prototype, about the size of a microwave oven, was placed in a chamber which mimicked the cold, hostile environment. After several days it was able to produce substantial amounts of pure oxygen from the thin Martian carbon dioxide air. Dr David Kaplan, chief scientist behind the project at the Johnson space centre in Houston, Texas, said it "performed brilliantly".

The solar-powered machine was supposed to fly to Mars on a lander Nasa planned to launch next year. But the lander - identical to another probe lost last December - has been delayed until at least 2003.Mars is so far away that a round trip would take at least three years, including a year on the surface. Carrying all the water, oxygen and food needed to support astronauts on such a voyage would be impossible, so most of it would have to be produced on the planet.

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