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NASA Begins Study on Reliability of Space Life Support System

This is from yesterday's NASA newsletter, it may be interesting to some.



Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington, DC                  June 12, 1996
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Joel Wells
Kennedy Space Center, FL
(Phone: 407/867-2468)

RELEASE:  96-120


     Life scientists at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, FL, 
began the Agency's most realistic ground test to date on 
plants that will produce food and oxygen for long-duration 
space missions.

     During the experiment, researchers from NASA and Dynamac 
Corp., FL, will evaluate the ability of 128 potato plants and 
6,500 wheat seeds to produce food and oxygen, purify water 
and recycle waste products.  The landmark study, part of 
NASA's development of a Controlled Ecological Life Support 
System, is scheduled for a full year and could last up to 
three years.  This experiment marks the first time two crop 
species have been grown simultaneously in Kennedy's Biomass 
Production Chamber (BPC).

     "We recently completed a study with potatoes that lasted 
about 14 months," explained NASA agricultural engineer John 
Sager.  RIf we plan to live in space though, we must 
determine if this system will be as successful over longer 
periods of time.S

     Through photosynthesis, the wheat and potatoes will 
produce food, distilled water and oxygen, while removing 
carbon dioxide from the air.  Gradually, researchers will 
introduce plant and human waste streams from a RbioreactorS 
to the BPC, and through transpiration the plants will remove 
and use nutrients from the waste effluent.  RIn effect, 
plants may be the air and water filters of the space age,S 
said Ray Wheeler, NASA plant physiologist.

     The BPC, a retrofitted test chamber, has an interior 
composed of two plant chambers.  A hydroponics system is used 
to supply the plants with nutrients and water.  Tanks outside 
the chamber store the water and nutrient solution and special 
lamps provide artificial sunlight.  The controlled 
environment imitates the confined and resource deficient 
conditions of space.

     Scientists have been using the chamber since 1987, 
observing a variety of crops including soybeans, lettuce, 
tomatoes, white potatoes and wheat.  This study focuses on 
wheat and potato production because of their high 
productivity and performance in previous trials.

     "We hope to see the same positive results and high 
yields in this study that we have seen in the preceding 
studies," said Dynamic plant physiologist Gary Stutte.  RThis 
research brings us one step closer to supporting life in 
space for extended periods.S

                    - end -

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