Michael BraukusHeadquarters, Washington, DC June 12, 1996(Phone: 202/358-1979)Joel WellsKennedy Space Center, FL(Phone: 407/867-2468)RELEASE: 96-120NASA BEGINS STUDY ON RELIABILITY OF SPACE LIFE SUPPORT SYSTEMLife scientists at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, FL,began the Agency's most realistic ground test to date onplants that will produce food and oxygen for long-durationspace missions.During the experiment, researchers from NASA and DynamacCorp., FL, will evaluate the ability of 128 potato plants and6,500 wheat seeds to produce food and oxygen, purify waterand recycle waste products. The landmark study, part ofNASA's development of a Controlled Ecological Life SupportSystem, is scheduled for a full year and could last up tothree years. This experiment marks the first time two cropspecies have been grown simultaneously in Kennedy's BiomassProduction Chamber (BPC)."We recently completed a study with potatoes that lastedabout 14 months," explained NASA agricultural engineer JohnSager. If we plan to live in space though, we must
determine if this system will be as successful over longerperiods of time.
Through photosynthesis, the wheat and potatoes willproduce food, distilled water and oxygen, while removingcarbon dioxide from the air. Gradually, researchers willintroduce plant and human waste streams from a bioreactor
to the BPC, and through transpiration the plants will removeand use nutrients from the waste effluent. In effect,
plants may be the air and water filters of the space age,
said Ray Wheeler, NASA plant physiologist.The BPC, a retrofitted test chamber, has an interiorcomposed of two plant chambers. A hydroponics system is usedto supply the plants with nutrients and water. Tanks outsidethe chamber store the water and nutrient solution and speciallamps provide artificial sunlight. The controlledenvironment imitates the confined and resource deficientconditions of space.- more -- 2 -Scientists have been using the chamber since 1987,observing a variety of crops including soybeans, lettuce,tomatoes, white potatoes and wheat. This study focuses onwheat and potato production because of their highproductivity and performance in previous trials.