“NASA’s Past, Present, and Future of Bioregenerative Life Support”

Ray Wheeler, PhD



ECAE 104

Tuesday, September 30




NASA and other space agencies around the world have a long standing interest in the use of biological approaches for life support systems.  These so-called bioregenerative systems could involve the use of plants, algae or cyanobacteria to photosynthetically generate oxygen and food, while removing CO2 from human habitats.  Other bioregenerative concepts include the use of microbial systems (e.g., bioreactors) to recycle solid waste and purify wastewater.  These regenerative nature of these systems could help reduce consumables and resupply costs to sustain humans for long duration space exploration missions. For earlier missions, such as the International Space Station, smaller scale plant growth systems might be used to provide perishable foods to supplement the crew’s diet.  A review of NASA’s bioregenerative research will be presented along potential applications for future space travel.



Ray is a senior scientist in the Surface Systems Division of the Engineering Directorate at NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and serves as the current lead for advanced life support activities at KSC.  Ray has worked on bioregenerative life support research and development since 1982 (University of Wisconsin) and then KSC from 1988 to the present.  Ray’s research includes plant production testing for food and O2 production, and CO2 reduction for space life support systems.  In particular, his work focused on lighting and CO2 concentration effects on plant growth and development, and the use of hydroponic techniques for production systems.  His current research interest also includes life support bio-systems that involve the use of planetary resources available to Mars surface missions. Ray is the author or co-author of over 220 scientific papers and has presented over 60 invited talks since 1990.  Ray received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, the USDA-ARS Morrison Lecturer Award, NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal, and the Amer. Society for Gravitational and Space Research Founder’s Award.  Ray holds or has held adjunct / courtesy appointments at:  Florida Institute of Technology; University of Florida; Utah State University; Cornell University; Texas A&M University, and the University of Arizona. Ray also serves as a vice-chair for the Life Sciences Commission (F) in COSPAR–the International Committee on Space Research.


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