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Angermann, Barbara; Hoffland, Shelly (ed.) / Wisconsin engineer
Volume 93, No. 2 (December 1988)

Teng, Winnie
Working in space: astroculture,   pp. 6-9


Page 6


ASTROCU LTU RE
by Winnie Teng
If you have ever gone camping in
the woods for a whole week with just the
barest necessities, then you know what it
feels like to live on an extremely basic
meal plan. However, on a month-long
camping trip, your diet would definitely
undergo major culture shock if you were
to eat the same prefab "camping" food
again and again. In addition to the lack of
decent meals, the burden of carrying a
heavy load of food would most likely
discourage anyone from embarking on
such a journey. By the same token, a trip
out into space follows restricted living
conditions.
The focus of the Wisconsin
Center for Space Automation and
Robotics (WCSAR) Astroculture project is
the development of technology for a
space-based plant growth unit which will
serve as a major component of Controlled
Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS).
NASA is proposing to launch a low earth
orbit (LEO) space station within the next
decade, to set up a lunar base early in the
21 st century, and eventually, to build a
Mars base in about 40 years. It is clear
that a superior form of life support,
designed for long-duration or perma-
nently manned flight expeditions in
space, needs to be developed. A major
concern for the advancement of our space
frontier is maintaining an environment
similar to the earth's in order for man to
function well.
Currently, the space program
utilizes physiochemical processes to
create a controlled environment for its
astronauts. Machinery for such processes
and storage of a crew's entire dietary
supply both contribute to the exorbi-
tantly high launch costs. With one crew
member's daily food requirements
weighing approximately 14 pounds and
estimated launch costs of $2000 per
pound, a six- month mission for four
people would mean a great financial
burden and an extremely heavy payload.
A solution to this problem would
be to use a bioregenerative system which
could eliminate heavy environmental
machinery and space-consuming food
storage. The general concept behind this
self-supporting system is the interde-
pendence between plants and humans.
The plants provide food and oxygen to
the crew, and the crew, in turn, supplies
carbon dioxide and waste nutrients to the
plants. The four components of a
bioregenerative cycle includes plant
production, food processing, human
interaction, and waste processing. Plants
in space would reduce the need for water
purifying and oxygen to carbon dioxide
conversion devices while efficiently
keeping the crew alive. Although the
research and development at WCSAR is
concerned with the plant production
subsystem, the entire system makes up a
large portion of their research efforts.
One important aspect of having
plants in space is their aesthetic qualities.
Man can do without fresh fruit and
vegetables for a few days, perhaps a few
weeks. However on long-duration
flights, man will want to see green life.
Plants can increase the crew's durability
and mental productivity and create a
more natural environment. By harvest-
ing versatile crops in space, people will
benefit from having a variety of meals
The 1 m' prototype of a potato -growing container
and nutrient supply system
Wisconsin Engineer, December 1988
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