Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

1991 (Phone: 202/453-1549) Pam Alloway Johnson Space Center, Houston (Phone: 713/483-5111) RELEASE: 91-78

May 24,

SPRING PLANTING AND CROP HARVEST TIME UNDERWAY AT NASA Spring is not only planting time at Johnson Space Center, Houston, it also is harvest time in the Engineering Directorate's Crew and Thermal Systems Division (CTSD). And the crop harvested will give scientists and engineers vital information that could impact human's self-sufficiency on the Moon and Mars. CTSD scientists and engineers on May 30 will harvest their first research crop of Waldman's Green Lettuce grown in a specially outfitted chamber at Johnson. This crop follows the successful harvest of a test crop of lettuce in late February, that marked an important milestone in studies on Regenerative Life Support Systems (RLSS). These studies are focusing on recycling air and water and the production of food, all critical elements to NASA's future long duration missions. CTSD personnel designed the test that ended with the February harvest to verify the new fully-automated RLSS test-bed plant growth chamber, its ability to operate at reduced atmospheric pressures that more closely duplicate lunar and martian habitat environments and whether it can grow crops from seed to harvest with minimal human intervention.

The crop in the RLSS test bed is grown in an array of 480 receptacles that contain a solid substrate medium irrigated with a standardized nutrient solution added via an automated irrigation system. The test bed was designed to grow enough plants to provide food for one person and air and drinking water for several people, said Wil Ellis, CTSD chief. "We can control and monitor all environmental conditions essential to plant growth," said Don Henninger, RLSS chief scientist. "There are about 250 measurements obtained every hour." - more -2Samples of the chamber's atmosphere pass through a series of gas analyzers to measure and control the atmospheric composition. Outside the chamber are three large tanks in which excess oxygen produced by plants during photosynthesis is stored. Nearby, two other tanks hold carbon dioxide which is injected to meet plant photosynthesis requirements. Water transpired by the plants is collected, measured and analyzed. Engineers and scientists have taken a multi-level approach to JSC's RLSS project. The project includes physical and chemical life support research, plant growth research and life sciences requirements, all of which contribute to a RLSS data base. Scientists and engineers will use this information to develop a human-rated RLSS test facility. "The purpose of the regenerative life support system test bed is to gather data to provide information for designing similar systems for lunar and Mars' bases," said Ellis. "The four unique aspects of this regenerative life support test bed activity that JSC offers the agency are: a closed chamber; reduced pressure capability; integration of biological, physical, and chemical systems; and the ability to get direct engineering data to build a human-rated test facility." A RLSS would make humans on a lunar or Mars outpost more self-sufficient and less dependent on resupplied expendables from Earth, Ellis said. The system would use plants and microbes in various bioregenerative processes to produce food and regenerate the outpost's air and water.

Ellis said it is likely a life support system for a lunar or Mars outpost will combine advanced biological, physical and chemical regenerative systems and current shuttle-type or proposed space station life support technologies. An initial outpost, not much larger than a spaceship, probably would use pumps, fans and filters similar to those found in the shuttle or the proposed space station life support system. Later, the outpost's life support system could evolve into progressively more complex systems with integrated physical, chemical and biological components. Scientists and engineers working on this project are focusing research efforts on integrating a RLSS in preparation for eventual flight hardware development. Along with that effort is the need to identify areas where technology development is necessary to coordinate the integration and allow the systems to evolve together. Scientists and engineers are in phase two of a four phase RLSS project. During this phase, they will add hydroponics to their growing regimen which now uses a solid substrate medium. By using a hydroponic system, plants will grow in a continuous flowing nutrient solution rather than a solid substrate. To complete the first phase, a lunar simulant will be used in the near future to grow lettuce in the growth chamber. - more -3Scientists opted not to concentrate on hydroponics exclusively because the lunar soil has some unique characteristics. Synthetic soils called zedlites can be manufactured from lunar materials. The third phase will allow for the study of plant growth in sub-ambient total gas pressures, while the fourth phase will incorporate physical and chemical systems. The current study provides a baseline data set for system performance evaluations to be made in later phases of the project. - end A 3 minute-11 second video clip, called Recycling In Space, is available from the NASA Headquarters Audio Visual Branch by calling 202/453-8373.