Marshall Space Flight Center: Supporting Life in Space

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Supporting Life in Space

Preparing an ECLSS water recovery racks for transport As NASA prepares for the third great era of space exploration, extending humanity's reach beyond low-Earth orbit for long-term, high-value research and study of the moon, Mars, asteroids and other bodies across the solar system, engineers and technicians at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center are developing and testing life support systems and conducting new studies of the space environment itself to make those journeys possible -- and enrich them beyond any we've flown to date.

New engineering breakthroughs supporting space systems research and development at Marshall include autonomous mobile systems used for crewed and uncrewed exploration tasks; air and water revitalization systems providing environmental life support; avionics and processors hardened to withstand deep-space environments and radiation during long missions; robotic lander capabilities; cryogenic fluid management, storage and transfer; and new advances to protect human beings from the debilitating rigors of space travel. Science research at Marshall is supported by technology development studies in space weather analysis, characterization and event prediction; advanced instrument and sensor development; and more comprehensive evaluation and definition of the space environment itself.

For more than 20 years, Marshall engineers have led the design, testing and development of the International Space Station life support system, called the regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System, or ECLSS. In human spaceflight, the life support systems are a group of devices that allow people to survive in outer space. The Wastewater Recovery System "recycles" waste water into usable water, while the Oxygen Generation System provides oxygen for breathing air for the crew, reducing the need for costly transportation of these items. The life support systems also remove carbon dioxide and other harmful gases from the cabin atmosphere and help maintain comfortable cabin temperature, humidity and pressure. With the successful installation of the final ECLSS system components on the International Space Station, Marshall engineers are now busy building and supplying nearly 150 orbital replacement units and providing sustaining engineering expertise for these critical systems.

Today, Marshall engineers are designing and testing a new generation of life support systems as part of a project called Exploration Life Support systems. Hardware to remove carbon dioxide and humidity from the atmosphere of future crewed exploration vehicles is being developed and tested at the center. Also in development and testing is a waste water processor that uses some of the technologies used on the International Space Station. This kind of processor will be used in a planetary habitat, where recovering a higher percentage of water from waste water will be very important. As in the space station, the water system will need to process urine and humidity from the atmosphere (mainly from perspiration and respiration) but in addition, the Exploration Life Support system hardware will process waste water from taking showers, washing clothes and other hygienic activities.

Other Resources

International Space StationInternational Space Station
The International Space Station serves as an exploration and science outpost above Earth.
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Water image from International Space StationEnvironmental Control and Life Support System
Read about the system that will provide humans in space with a comfortable environment that minimizes resupply burdens.
› Fact Sheet

Dr. Lisa Monaco examines a prototype chip.Space Station Life Support
Marshall plays an important role in the development of systems critical to the future of space exploration.
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Page Last Updated: September 30th, 2013
Page Editor: Brooke Boen