|Posted on Nov 03, 2011 03:14:43 PM | Jessica Nimon | 6 Comments ||
In today’s entry, guest blogger Jeff Smith, Ph.D., shares his thoughts on the sustainable aspects of the International Space Station with the readers of A Lab Aloft, pointing out how these carefully planned efforts in space can lead to greener living on Earth.
The International Space Station is an amazing place. It’s a research lab, an observatory, a complex machine and a home. But, it’s not just any home or workplace; the station is the most remote and most environmentally conscious home or office ever created. Every bit of materials, supplies and consumables must be brought from Earth at a cost of thousands of dollars per pound. All the on-board power comes from renewable solar energy. Anything that can be re-used, re-purposed or recycled gets to stay; everything else gets tabulated, quantified, packed and either returned to Earth, or packed out aboard Progress or another space vehicle designated to burn up over the Pacific Ocean.
In space, it costs a lot to bring in supplies and pack out the waste. It is also extremely important to always make sure there are enough supplies and enough power to keep everything running smoothly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a crew (or family) of six. There is no grocery store, pharmacy or hardware shop in space. If it’s not aboard, you can’t just go out and pick it up at the corner store. You can’t even open the windows to get more air. If you run out, that’s it.
As a result of these limitations, the space station has become an incredible example of sustainability and sustainable practices anywhere on Earth, or beyond. The technologies and methods being developed and used by the crew can directly translate to improved sustainability for homes and offices here on Earth.
NASA astronaut Catherine (Cady) Coleman, Expedition 26 flight engineer, is pictured with a stowage container and its contents in the Harmony node of the International Space Station.
(NASA Image ISS026E011334)
Supplies are stored in a number of locations and carefully tracked so they can be brought out when required. Since the crew is living, working, eating, sleeping, exercising and breathing—just as you and I would do on Earth—those supplies get used pretty quickly. All that packaging, food and other consumables become waste. The waste is also carefully measured and stored.
Some materials and samples are returned to Earth; but the majority is stowed aboard Progress or other space vehicles and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. At first this might not seem like a “sustainable” practice, but the space station must track everything that comes in or goes out. With the high cost of boosting supplies into space, station crews and ground-support personnel take many steps to reduce, re-use and recycle everything they can.
The unpiloted ISS Progress 41 supply vehicle departs from the International Space Station April 22, 2011. Filled with trash and discarded items, Progress 41 remained in orbit a safe distance from the station for engineering tests before being commanded by flight controllers to descend to a destructive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
(NASA Image ISS027E015444)
Air and water are currently recycled aboard the space station, but NASA has plans to improve these systems and do even more to recycle waste. These new and advanced space-based life support systems include air revitalization, water recovery, and waste management, as well as control systems for many other important factors, such as temperature, humidity and cabin pressure.
To reduce the high cost of lifting resources into orbit, space life support systems must be extremely small and lightweight. Since there is little power to spare in space, they must also be very energy efficient. Space life support systems also need to be extraordinarily reliable and low-maintenance, as malfunctions can lead to mission failure and repairs in space are time consuming and demanding on the crew. Additionally, these systems can increase self-sufficiency by regenerating vital resources from waste materials.
These requirements for sustainable systems in space—small, lightweight, energy-efficient, low-maintenance, and low waste—are the same as those that can make systems work even better here on Earth. Thus, the capabilities developed to enable human exploration in space can be potentially applied on Earth to make cleaner, more sustainable living possible here today. NASA’s technical excellence and engineering expertise offer critical resources for jump-starting sustainable systems technologies for use in private and commercial sectors. With a strong commitment to public/private partnerships and commercial technology transfer, NASA knowledge and technologies can help make sustainable living practical and affordable for everyone.
NASA advanced life support systems, air (left), water (middle) and solid waste (right) processing units for life support can provide future space habitats with small, low-power, extremely efficient recycling systems. These space systems can have Earth-based applications to improve sustainability where we live and work.
(Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)
Today, some of the sustainable technologies developed for space are being brought down to Earth in the Sustainability Base at NASA Ames Research Center. This 50,000 square foot office building is one of the cleanest, greenest facilities ever constructed.
NASA’s Sustainability Base is unlike any other government building every created. It incorporates space technologies and know-how, bringing International Space Station and other NASA energy/sustainability practices down to Earth in one of the greenest, most efficient buildings ever.
(Credit: NASA Ames Research Center)
Construction of the Sustainability Base will be completed soon, showing that NASA really does translate advanced sustainable technologies from space down to Earth, affecting our homes and workplaces for a cleaner greener tomorrow. Other ongoing activities, outlined in the NASA Ames Greenspace Website, include sustainable practices, clean energy technology development and green aviation research. These technologies and methods, whether used aboard station or to accomplish other NASA missions, can make a big contribution to improve sustainability and environmentally friendly practices here on Earth.
Jeff Smith, Ph.D.
Jeff Smith, Ph.D., is Chief of the Space Biosciences Research Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center. The principal mission of the Branch is to advance space exploration by achieving new scientific discoveries and technological developments in the biosciences. Smith has worked for NASA since 1996.
Tags : Benefits, General, Guest Bloggers, ISS as a Laboratory, Technology