A direct mathematical approach has been established for characterizing the performance of closed-loop life support systems. The understanding that this approach gives clearly illustrates the options available for increasing the performance of a life support system by changing various parameters. New terms are defined and utilized, such as Segregation Factor, Resource Recovery Efficiency, Overall Reclamation Efficiency, Resupply Reduction Factor, and Life Support Extension Factor. The effects of increases in expendable system supplies required due to increases in life support system complexity are shown. Minimizing resupply through increased recycling and source reduction is illustrated. The effects of recycling upon resupply launch cost is also shown. Finally, material balance analyses have been performed based on quantity and composition data for both supplies and wastes, to illustrate the use of this approach by comparing ten different closed-loop life support system cases.