Space Adventure

Biosphere II | Space Stations | Moon Base

Missions with Microbes?

When humans blast off from Earth, they will take with them microbes. Microbes will be the foundation of life support systems on long term flights and for colonies on distant planets and moons. Currently, the United States is planning Space Station Freedom, a permanent lunar base, and a mission to Mars. In all of these missions, microbes could play a role in sustaining life support systems.

Biosphere II

In preparation for extended missions in space, scientists are developing simulations of enclosed space stations. These enclosed spaces are called Closed Ecological Life Support Systems, or CELSS for short.

The largest CELSS project yet is Biosphere II in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. Biosphere II contains three acres sealed from our atmosphere under glass. Biosphere II contains eight different biomes including desert, salt marsh, ocean, rain forest, tropical savanna, rain forest, agricultural area, and human habitat. Each of these environments has its own rich communities of microbes.

In 1991, 8 people were sealed inside Biosphere II for 2 years. Microbes helped maintain life in Biosphere II for all that time. Microbes recycled wastes, purified the air, and changed the atmosphere.

See a related story about loss of oxygen from Biosphere II in Microbes in News

Try This!

Build your own miniature biosphere. To do this, all you need is a jar and lid and some pond water. Put pond water in the jar and seal this with the lid. Watch what happens to the biosphere over time. Can you see that the biosphere is changing?


Space Stations

The Russians have had Space Station Mir in space. The United States has plans for building Space Station Freedom. In the future, both of these stations may use microbes to help create a permanent stations. Microbes would recycle water and could be used for food production.


Permanent Lunar Base

If humans are to build a station on the Moon, microbes may help make the station permanent. Using technology developed from CELSS research such as that done in Biosphere II, scientists can use microbes to create a self sustaining ecology on the moon.

Although most microbes will be beneficial in space missions, some microbes have shown to be problems in space. These grow on surfaces and instruments and they corrode metals. More research is needed to figure out how to control these microbes.

For more information about using microbes to colonize the moon, see a related story, "Microbes crucial for space exploration" in Microbes in the News.