|In order to, one day, achieve long-term space missions to Mars, SCK•CEN researchers are working on a microbial waste recycling system which enables astronauts to produce oxygen, drinking water and food autonomously when flying into space. Carried out with the help of the European Space Agency and a consortium of international experts, the MELiSSA project tries to find a way to replicate basically how the micro-organisms work when recycling on earth.
The daily dose of ionizing radiation is far more important in space than on earth and has a direct impact on the astronauts and bacteria found in space. With the support of the FPS Science Policy (Belspo), the microbiologists of SCK•CEN have been preparing this space experiment for ten years. It involves spirulina, an intriguing cyanobacteria, capable of producing oxygen and food. The Belgian researchers already sent spirulina several times in orbit with the ESA astronauts. They now look to go a step further in their project: on 4 December, the very first photobioreactor will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS) to study the behaviour of spirulina and the production of oxygen via a bacterial culture under microgravity and space radiation conditions.
Photo: Wietse Heylen (left) en Ilse Coninx (right)