US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — If people want to travel to distant places in space, such as the Moon or Mars, they will need ways to live for long periods of time. And one of the key tasks in this area is how to get safe food and water for food and drink away from the Earth.
At the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts can receive supplies from Earth with cargo spaceships visiting the space station, which takes only six hours. But the travel time to Mars is at least eight months. And if you are on the Red Planet, you need to learn to walk alone.
Scientists have worked to solve this problem. They looked for ways for astronauts to produce their clean water and grow their food. And just as importantly, they guarantee that any risk of infection will be reduced so that the astronauts are as safe and healthy as possible on long missions.
Drinking water is something that many of us take on Earth for granted, but are difficult to find in space travel. The ISS recycles most of its waste water using chemicals, but still relies on significant water supplies from Earth to provide its astronauts with access to clean water.
A project called BIOWYSE hoped to find a solution to the water problem for long missions. The project considered ways of storing water for long periods of time, monitoring it in real time for contamination by microbes, and then dosing clean drinking water as necessary by decontamination of the water with ultraviolet light, and not with chemicals.
“We wanted to create a system in which you can take it from A to Z, from storing water to providing it for drinking,” said Dr. Emanuel Detsys, BIOWYSE coordinator.
The end result was a fully automated machine that could perform all these tasks. “When someone wants to drink water, he presses a button,” said Dr. Detsys. Water is checked, deactivated if necessary, then delivered. “It’s like a water cooler,” he said.
The device can also analyze samples from a damp surface inside the spacecraft to determine if they were contaminated and dangerous to the astronauts. “In a closed environment, your humidity starts to grow and you may have dirty corners or patches,” said Dr. Detsys. “So we developed something that could quickly test these areas.”
Within the framework of the project, a prototype of this machine on Earth was developed, about a meter long, with the idea that a smaller version could be used on the ISS.
“The system is designed for future habitats,” said Dr. Detsys. “A space station around the moon or a field laboratory on Mars in the coming decades. These are places where water could have been there some time before the crew arrived. ”
Water is hard to find, but it is not uncommon in the solar system. The Moon and Mars have ice, which theoretically can be turned into drinking water. But the more difficult prospect for self-sufficiency is food – any food for astronauts must be delivered from Earth.
There are some developing ideas on how to grow food without permanent missions with replenishment. For several years, astronauts used machines such as the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), launched in 2006, to study the growth of plants such as lettuce. Then the ECMS was replaced by a similar machine called the Biolab in 2018.
Dr. Ann-Irene Kittang Jost of the Center for Interdisciplinary Space Research (CIRiS) in Norway was the coordinator of the project, which considered ways to develop a new plant growing system that could be safely eaten in space. When Dr. Kittang Jost started the project, EMCS was in space for ten years, and it’s time to update it, she says.
“We need modern technology for growing food for future space exploration of the moon and Mars.”
The main goal was to develop a method of recycling water and nutrients inside the future cultivating machine, as well as easier monitoring of plant conditions in order to develop the idea of a “greenhouse” in space.
We envisioned a machine that would have more room to grow plants than a suitcase-sized EMCS with more functionality. “We created a prototype that demonstrates that we can process nutrients and grow lettuce there,” said Dr. Kittang Jost. “We could grow them and control the nutrient content in the water. We have proven this concept. ”
As with Biolab, the ECMS prototype was developed using a centrifuge to simulate gravity on the Moon and Mars, for example, to measure plant absorption of nutrients or water. Such ideas can be useful not only for space travel, but also for people on Earth. “It’s important to find synergies with the problems we have,” said Dr. Kittang Jost. This includes finding ways to reuse nutrients and water in our own greenhouses, for example, by improving sensory technologies and developing better ways to monitor nutrients and plant health.
In order to travel and even live in such worlds as the Moon and Mars, such technologies will be crucial, allowing astronauts to be self-sufficient when they are far from Earth. And it is very important to make sure that any water stored in these places is disinfected and safe to drink.
“It will not be like the ISS,” said Dr. Detsys. “You will not have permanent staff. There will be a period when the laboratory can be empty, there will be no personnel until the next shift arrives in three or four months (or longer). “Water and other resources will be there, and this can lead to the accumulation of microorganisms.”
Dr. Kittang Jost says that in terms of producing safe food, we are approaching the goal of creating a system that can be used in future missions. “We are very close,” she said. “Of course, this is a challenge. But building a greenhouse should be feasible. ”
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