Bioengineering Branch

The Bioengineering Branch in the Space Biosciences Division at NASA Ames is developing advanced technologies required for future human exploration missions in space.



Human space exploration requires life support systems that sustain the health and well-being of the crew. These systems must serve as functional replacements for the natural life support systems of Earth that regenerate air and water, provide food, and manage waste materials. While the life support needs of relatively short duration missions can typically be met by supplying the basic life support elements (air, water and food) from Earth, this approach is impractical for extended human presence in space, and becomes mission limiting for future Lunar and Mars exploration. These missions require advanced regenerative technologies to increase mission sustainability, improve efficiency and performance, and decrease life-cycle costs.

NASA's Exploration Life Support (ELS) program is charged with developing the advanced technologies and systems that support humans in extended space exploration. The development of these technologies is focused on the need to increase mission self-sufficiency by minimizing mass, power and volume requirements through regeneration of vital resources.


Research Areas

What ELS technologies must we create to enable the next explorers to go beyond where we have been?

Advanced technology development areas required for future human missions include: atmosphere revitalization; water recovery; food production and processing; waste processing/resource recovery; biosensors; metabolic engineering; in situ resource utilization; and system modeling, analysis, and controls associated with integrated subsystem operations.

Artists conception of Mars transit vehicle interior.


Potential Earth-based Applications

The knowledge gained and the technologies developed in the ELS program have direct application to addressing environmental issues on Earth. Applications include:

  • Air contaminant control technologies
  • Carbon dioxide removal and sequestration technologies
  • Wastewater treatment to potable standards
  • Advanced environmental sensing
  • Alternative energy production (e.g., biofuels)
  • Waste minimization and co-product generation
  • Maximizing power efficiency
  • Advanced food production techniques
  • Large-scale system analysis, integration, and engineering


Artists conception of lunar module