Magazine article The Futurist

Building Biospheres for Space Living. (Technology)

Magazine article The Futurist

Building Biospheres for Space Living. (Technology)

Article excerpt

Anew center at Purdue University will develop biospheres and other advanced technologies for sustaining human colonists on Mars or the moon.

Residents will grow their own crops and live inside fully enclosed habitats in which all wastes are constantly recycled and purified. Plants will provide foods and oxygen, microbes will break down wastes, and other technologies will remove impurities from air and water.

The habitats largely use biological organisms to sustain a life-supporting environment, but engineered systems will be just as critical in maintaining that environment. Various devices will recycle air and human wastes and purify water from bathing or dish washing.

"It's exactly duplicating what happens on Earth," says Purdue horticulture professor Cary Mitchell, who is leading the research project. "But to make sure that things cycle fast enough, you need some physical and chemical processes to help along the biological systems."

The research goal is to enable self-sustaining human planetary colonization beginning in the late 2010s or early 2020s.

One focus of the current Purdue research will be to break down human wastes with bacteria, which will generate heat up to 90[degrees]C (194[degrees]F). Researchers are also developing a system that freezes liquid wastes to remove salt and leave behind pure water crystals, using a technique that consumes far less energy than attempts to purify liquid wastes by boiling. …

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