NASA scientists are testing a device that may allow humans to produce their own oxygen on Mars.

This hardware, called the Oxygen Generator System, is one of five experiments on a unit known as MIP (Mars In-situ Propellant Production Precursor). Researchers will subject it to both the hottest and coldest temperature extremes found on the planet.

Last year, the device successfully produced oxygen from a gas environment that simulated Mars' extremely thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere.

Scientists say the idea is to "live off" Mars' resources. This will cut the amount of material required to accompany any future human mission.

If tests are successful, an identical MIP unit is scheduled to go on the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander next year. But, according to Matthias Gottmann a University of Arizona engineer who helped build the MIP last year's two failures with Martian robot ships may push the launch back to 2003.

This will be the first experiment to produce materials from extraterrestrial resources for human use. Oxygen produced on Mars can also be used as rocket propellant for return missions robotic and human as well as for life support.