The main source of oxygen in space is through electrolysis, which is made from water

Oxygen is abundant on Earth. It’s actually the third most plentiful element in the entire universe, behind hydrogen and helium. 

Yet the further you get from our home planet, the less oxygen there will be at your disposal.

If you have ever climbed to a high point on Earth, you have likely experienced a decrease in oxygen. Once you reach far-up altitudes, even right here on Earth, you will likely need supplemental oxygen as the air starts to thin.

On Earth, oxygen is created through photosynthesis. 

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Astronauts in space do not have access to the same abundance of oxygen that is available to us on Earth.

So how do astronauts get access to a steady flow of oxygen when they are up in space? 

Oxygen is created at the International Space Station in a process called electrolysis. (Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)

It depends, mainly on the length of the mission. 

Crewed spacecraft will carry their own supply and a backup supply of oxygen. The oxygen in the International Space Station (ISS) is created from water.  

The first piece of the ISS was launched in 1998, with over 270 astronauts visiting since, according to NASA. 

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It serves as a research hub and home for astronauts during space travel. On the ISS, there are several different ways to obtain oxygen for astronauts. 

A photo of the International Space Station (ISS)

The International Space Station has been in orbit since 1998. ( NASA via Getty Images)

The main way to get oxygen in space is through a process called electrolysis. This is when oxygen is made from water. During electrolysis, oxygen and hydrogen are split by running electricity through water. 

Additionally, there are pressurized oxygen tanks delivered to the ISS from Earth that can be used as a backup oxygen source in the case of a malfunction or leak. 

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While these methods are frequent ways oxygen is obtained by astronauts in space, the creation of oxygen outside Earth, throughout the universe and on other planets is still a concept being tested and studied. 

A photo illustration of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars

There is lots of experimentation in the works for creating oxygen on other planets, including Mars, where the MOXIE device was successful in generating oxygen on the planet. (NASA via Getty Images)

For example, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars in 2021. Since its landing, a device called Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) has successfully been able to generate oxygen on the planet. 

Since its 2021 landing, MOXIE has created a total of 122 grams of oxygen, according to NASA. To put this into perspective, the space agency said that is the amount of oxygen a small dog breathes in a 10-hour time span. 

While this may not seem like much, the 12 grams of oxygen an hour that MOXIE was able to create at its most efficient was twice as much as NASA’s original goals for the device, according to the government agency.  

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When it comes to power in space, the sun is the primal energy source. The ISS contains solar panels that are able to take energy from the sun and convert it into electricity that gives the spacecraft its power. 

Close up of Sun

The sun’s energy is converted into power for the International Space Station. (NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory via Getty Images)

The solar panels are able to channel the sun’s energy into batteries on the station. 

These batteries hold power so that when the station is not in direct sunlight, it can pull energy from the battery to keep it running. 

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