NASA said it had successfully made oxygen on Mars, a major development that could aid future human missions to the red planet.
The space agency confirmed Wednesday evening that a tool sent with its Perseverance rover was successful in converting some of Mars' thin, carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere into oxygen.
The experimental instrument developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE for short.
NASA said the experiment "could pave the way for science fiction to become science fact" in a statement announcing the results, noting that storing oxygen on Mars could help power rockets from the surface of the planet to send astronauts back home and even possibly provide breathable air for future humans on the red planet.
"This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars," Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
"MOXIE has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars," Reuter added. "Oxygen isn’t just the stuff we breathe. Rocket propellant depends on oxygen, and future explorers will depend on producing propellant on Mars to make the trip home."
Mars' atmosphere is some 96% carbon dioxide, according to NASA. MOXIE separates oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules -- which are comprised of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. The experiment emits carbon monoxide into the Martian atmosphere as a waste product.
An intense amount of heat (temperatures of 1,470 degrees Fahrenheit) are required for the conversion process, and MOXIE is made up of 3D-printed, heat tolerant materials.
In its first test, MOXIE created about 5 grams of oxygen, or about 10 minutes worth of breathable oxygen. The device is designed to create up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour.
Perseverance, NASA's most-advanced rover yet, landed on Mars in February with the goal of searching for signs of ancient life and paving the way for eventual human exploration.