Development of an Operational CELSS Prototype for use on the Seafloor 941454
An operational Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS) may one day be used as a significant component for an advanced life support system for deep space applications, such as moon or Mars exploration. Active research has been ongoing since 1978 to develop and understand key components of this technology at universities and National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) centers around the United States. At the John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, a large plant growth chamber has been producing higher plants since 1988. This chamber has proven highly successful at producing growing crops from germination to harvest, including wheat, soybean, potato and lettuce. This 113 cubic meter chamber is the largest such closed, controlled growth chamber in the world. In direct support of the chamber are laboratories which supply maintenance for all aspects of the chamber operations from producing nutrients tocontinuous monitoring and evaluation.1-2
As these CELSS systems become more developed and better documented, a next logical step is to better understand how these systems can be adapted to field and operation use. Such tests allow the CELSS system design to be directly adapted for remote operations by separating the extensive laboratory support from the bioengineering system. Engineers and scientists at the KSC Biological Research and Life Support Office have developed a functional plant module for testing in an extreme environment on the seafloor at Key Largo, Florida. The world's only fixed seafloor laboratory, the MarineLab, operated by the Marine Resources Development Foundation, has been selected as the site for a full test of this operational plant system. This project is called the Ocean CELSS Experimental Analog - NASA, or, the OCEAN Project.
The OCEAN Project will test the plant bioengineering system for a 90-day crop of wheat (Yecora Rojo), three 28-day lettuce (Waldmann's Green) crops and dwarf tomato crops grown in succession. In addition to these plant and engineering system studies, the Principal Investigator will also test a 90-day diet prepared from foods that would be found in a CELSS type menu. (The plants grown will not be eaten.) This investigation will be conducted in association with the CELSS food science group at the Purdue University NSCORT. At the same time, five private industries testing CELSS technologies will participate in field testing their CELSS-related technology and research. And while the 90-day program is underway, an extensive educational program will be ongoing with eleven elementary schools, high schools and universities.
Results from the 90 day project are expected to provide information on the capability to successfully transfer technology developed in the laboratory to a remote, extreme environment for operational use. A better understanding of the extent of crew time required to interface with such systems will be investigated along with detailed information on crew response to a CELSS-like diet. CELSS technology developed under various Small Business Innovative Research grants will also be evaluated on site as well as offering a very diverse opportunity for the nation's school children and a team of University of Florida students to remotely participate with the project.