Dedication and Perspiration Builds The Next Generation Life Support System
Marshall Center employees are back at it -- donating time and energy -- exercising on treadmills, bikes, and other equipment to test aspects of a life support system that could someday provide drinking water to people living on the moon or Mars.
For almost 20 years, NASA engineers at Marshall have led the design and development of the International Space Station life support system, called the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS. Looking ahead to extended moon missions when re-supply will be over 240,000 miles away, Marshall engineers have assembled key aspects of the station's ECLSS waste water processor technology to explore how this system might work on a future lunar habitat.
Image above, right: Marshall Center employees exercise on bikes and treadmills and other equipment inside a mockup of an International Space Station module to test part of the Exploration Water Recovery System life support system that could someday provide drinking water to people living on the moon. Image credit: NASA/MSFC
This redesigned hardware, the Exploration Water Recovery System, is a novel combination of proven air and water purification technologies and optimizes the treatment of various wastewater streams. The system reclaims urine and condensation from perspiration and through a series of treatment processes, creates water clean enough to drink.
"To support human life on the moon, we’ll need robust and efficient life support systems that can work well without a large amount of consumables," said Monsi Roman, Exploration Life Support Project Manager. "Our hope is to mature current life support technologies to be able minimize the amount of materials we need to bring up to space to support future crews."
For the next six weeks, Marshall will test this new hardware. The goal of this test is to examine the efficiency of the water processor to remove different types of contaminants from the waste water. NASA engineers want to determine how to increase the system efficiency and extend the life of expendables needed to keep clean water flowing.
More than 50 employees are participating in the Exploration Water Recovery System test. For the study, 20 employees exercise for an hour a day, generating water vapor through perspiration and respiration in the Regenerative ECLSS Module Simulator -- a mockup of a space module filled with treadmills, a bicycle, rowing machine and other exercise equipment. Individuals also "donate" urine as part of this test.
Image to right: The Exploration Water Recovery System captures perspiration and urine and through a series of rigorous treatment processes creates clean water. On top of the rack there are two cylinders: the one on the right "boils" water out of the solution leaving most of the contaminants behind and the other, on the left, captures and concentrates the contaminants. Further treatment processes "polish" the water, shown in the filter element in the lower left of the rack, until it meets stringent purity standards for human use. Image credit: NASA/MSFC
Before stepping into the module for a session, participants are provided with a white T-shirt to wear, a towel for drying off and a bottle of water or a sports energy drink to consume as they exercise. They weigh-in on a computerized scale, with the bottle of water in-hand. Sopping wet T-shirts and used towels are left hanging inside overnight to evaporate more sweat out of them. Participants also brush their teeth, wipe themselves down with wet towels and the men even shave -- simulating the daily routine of a station crew member -- to get every bit of moisture into the atmosphere. Participants even microwave meals inside the module to generate water vapor and the aroma from the food.
Image to right: One of the test participants, Robert Engberg, hangs up his washcloth after a workout. Sopping wet T-shirts and used washcloths are left hanging inside overnight to evaporate more sweat out of them. Image credit: NASA/MSFC
"We know this equipment can create water cleaner than water from municipal water systems here on Earth," said Keith Parrish, ECLSS Test Facility manager. "We hope we can refine the process so future crews will need fewer supplies to generate water for longer space missions -- whether on the moon or Mars."
Dauna Coulter, an avid runner and writer with Schafer Corporation supporting Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications, will journal her experiences participating in the test.
Contact: Jennifer Morcone, Marshall Space Flight Center