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NASA Recycles Former ISS Module for Life Support Research

NASA Recycles Former ISS Module for Life Support Research
NASA's former ISS habitation module is lowered into a cradle at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, where engineers will connect with two test modules for life support research. (Image credit: NASA/MSFC.)

A moduleonce destined to house astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS)has found a new purpose as a test bed for future life support systems.

Engineers atNASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) inHuntsville, Alabama are refitting a cylindrical common module originally slatedas a space station habitation compartment for use in developing improved lifesupport systems for current and future spacecraft.

"We'reprimarily involved in regenerative air and water systems development for thespace station," said Robyn Carrasquillo, NASA'sengineering manager for Environmental Control and Life Support Systems at MSFC,in a telephone interview.

The 8,500-pound (3,855-kilogram) commonmodule was not yet modified to suit astronaut housing needs aboard the ISS dueto budget constraints that led station planners to pullthe habitation module from the launch manifest, NASA officials added.

The 29-foot (8.8-meter) long, 16-foot (4.8-meter) wide modulewill be connected to two others at MSFC that were designed specifically forlife support system research. Engineers use one existing module to studywastewater collection, while the other is filled with treadmills and hygieneequipment similar to that aboard the ISS, Carrasquillo said.

"We takethe humidity from condensation and sweat we generate and test our watersystem," she added.

The mockspace station allows engineers to simulate the atmosphere inside a spacecraftin which life support systems must function. Engineers can injectcontaminants into the air or water supplies and study how different systemsreact, Carrasquillo said.

The modulescan also help NASA engineers derive more efficient environmental controlsystems for future spacecraft, such as the planned Crew Exploration Vehicle(CEV) and others destined for long-duration missions.

"Right now,we're developing a candidate air system for the CEV and we'll be looking aheadto lunar base technology that will hopefully close the loop even further,"Robyn Carrasquillo, NASA's engineering manager forEnvironmental Control and Life Support Systems at MSFC, in a telephoneinterview. "Our goal is to completely close the air and water loops."

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.