Water Wall

Ames is presenting a concept for life support that doesn’t biologically recycle, but utilizes membrane technology in a “water wall” (postulated as necessary for radiation protection) to help provide water and oxygen, using existing technologies. Uses osmotic concentration, distillation, forward osmosis power system to generate electricity. Usually concerned that this presentation is too futuristic for audiences, but happy to present to one that will consider it very conservative. Big recent breakthrough is in membrane technology. Waste water provides radiation protection, as does purified product. Can keep membrane from fouling for decades using forward osmosis. Membranes packed dry as part of expandable structure, then water is pumped into bags on orbit (eliminates need for heavy lift). Bags get “used up” after a while, at which point they get used for humus. Humus used for planetary applications. For transit mission, it becomes a precipitate radiation shield (sheet rock) even without water. Treats air by gas exchange membranes, strip out organics and CO2, can also control temperature, and even remove water vapor for dehumidifying. Might also grow algae to convert CO2 to oxygen with sunlight.


Well, there go their chances for the national championship. Barring a miracle, looks like no more undefeated teams in the Big Tweleven. They could still be conference champs, though, if someone else beat tOSU, and they can recover the rest of the season. Down 37-0 in the third quarter sure won’t impress many poll voters, though, or the computers.

[Update a few minutes later]

Well, they finally scored, but missed the two-point conversion, so now it’s only 37-6. They’re coming back! And it’s only well into the fourth quarter!

Life Support

Taber MacCallum: Learned several things from ISS. Ability to assemble systems, and amazing accomplishments, relative to what was though possible decades ago. Environmental control system is current state of the art. Discussing Biosphere 2. Took five months to make a pizza, starting with mating goats to get milk. Had materials and feedstock to build parts as needed. As time went on, had to fight equipment problems. Psychological problems tougher than technical ones, but can be conquered. ISS different kind of complexity, but helps us calibrate ourselves for the technologies needed for space settlement.

We are not ready to do closed-loop life support. Systems too complex, unreliable for remote planetary bodies. need to look at problem at an architectural level. Have to be tested for at least duration of time you plan to be using it for, so for two year mission, need six years lead time, including development. Could be a decade or two before we know if we’ll have a system for surface of the moon or halfway to Mars. If Bobby Braun wants to change the game, need to start doing ground test facilities now, and really go the duration, including people inside for that duration. And this won’t take into account problems of space environment (low gravity, etc.).

“State of the art is we don’t have a fully regenerative system, and it won’t keep working for very long.”

Lee Valentine: Cleaning air is easy, cleaning water is easy, nutritious food is easy with fish. Hard problem is recycling sewage into food. Have to recycle as much waste as possible. Assumptions: gravity is needed, energy by sunlight, 3600 calories per person per day. Big trade in system is biologic fixation (legumes) versus Haber Bosch method.

Aquaculture unit, vermiculture unit (red worms), fungi unit, waste management system. Two-person system would fit into Bigelow Sundancer. BA-2100 obviously much better for testing. Differences from previous systems: water cycle focuses on plants, which need it more, biological design is self designing and self correcting, and optimal nutrition, rather than wheat and potatoes, which is a highly deleterious diet. Recycling nitrogen and carbon the overriding challenge. Need to focus on deadlocked material. Water for food production several times higher than direct human requirements. Handling toxins and contaminants uses initial anaerobic stage (including the production of methane if desired). Worms can be backup food source. (Ewwws from audience). Mushroom culture provides water and humus which can be mixed with regolith for soil.

Hybrid of biological and physicochemical systems appears optimal. Best mix of plant and animal systems remains unknown. Need to think about synthetic biology and not constrain ourselves to existing species.

Start soon, start small (many can be done with minimal equipment), need not have closed atmosphere for most of experiments.

Young Voices

…who favor the Tea Party:

Rasmussen tracking polls show that 64 percent of Americans believe that “the country is headed in the wrong direction.” A CNN poll found that 56 percent of adults surveyed believe that “the government has become so powerful that it represents an immediate threat to the freedom and rights of citizens.” The size and scope of government, which currently amounts to 43 percent of GDP, will continue to exert downward pressure on economic growth as our generation matures.

Stewart, Colbert, McCain, and others may deride the Tea Parties as stupid, uninformed, and fearful masses, but these insults do not change reality. Unless we alter our current path, America’s reality is a grim one. The soaring national debt will fall squarely on the shoulders of today’s youth.

They’re at least as entitled to claim the mantle of the voice of their generation as Meghan McCain.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!