Purdue lands NASA research center
The tiny lights Cary Mitchell
holds may one day help life-sustaining plants grow in space. Photo
by Tom Campbell.
By Emile Venere
Purdue University has received a $10 million, five-year grant to lead
the NASA Specialized Center of Research and Training for Advanced Life
Support. The center will include 24 researchers from Purdue and two
historically black universities, Alabama A&M in Normal, Ala., and
Howard in Washington, D.C. The announcement was made jointly by Purdue
and NASA in March.
The center's director, Cary Mitchell, says Purdue will help design
a self-sustaining environment for future space colonies on Mars and
elsewhere in space. Space colonists will grow their own crops and live
inside fully enclosed habitats in which all wastes are constantly being
recycled and purified. Plants will provide foods and oxygen for humans,
microbes will break down wastes, and other technologies will be needed
to remove impurities from the air and water.
"There will be a closed-loop synergy, meaning the wastes of one
system are taken in, used and processed by another system," says
Mitchell, a professor of horticulture at Purdue.
The habitats will be largely "bioregenerative," meaning biological
organisms will help to sustain a life-supporting environment. But engineered
systems also will be critical in maintaining that environment. Various
devices will be needed to recycle air and human wastes and to purify
dirty water from bathing, dish washing and other sources.
"It's exactly duplicating what happens on earth," Mitchell
says. "But to make sure that things cycle fast enough, you need
some physical and chemical processes to help the biological systems."
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