When NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015, he expected the air to smell a little like a locker room, he says in a new video released by NASA. After all, the space station is essentially an airtight metal box where, most of the time, six or more crew members work constantly, exercise and sweat.
Lindgren was a surprise, however, thanks to the impressive technology in the life support system of the space station. "The air on the space station really smelled great," he says in the video. "The filters in the life support system do a great job of cleaning the air, there were no problems."
The life support system of the space station maintains the atmosphere on board the station, providing the correct amount of oxygen, eliminating carbon dioxide from the air, keeping the temperature in a comfortable range and providing fresh water and light , according to NASA. [Will Smith Has a Few Quirky Questions for a Space Station Astronaut (Video)]
Technology is important, not only to keep the air alive on board the station and for astronauts to be alive, but also for possible long-distance travel in the future, such as the trip to Mars. On board the station, Lindgren said he felt like a bridge builder, paving a path to the red planet.
"Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, no one can bring us clean water or replace systems that are malfunctioning," Lindgren says. "We will be alone, only us and the life support system."
The life support system aboard the space station acts as a test for future long-range exploration of the solar system, and the technology is evolving based on lessons learned from the station.
"We want to increase the level of recycling waste beyond what we do now at the station Our ISS water system can recycle about 93 percent of the wastewater to clean water", Molly Anderson, a leading technologist at NASA, he says in the video. NASA scientists plan to bring early demonstration technology to the station that should be able to recover most of the other 7 percent, which is known as "brine." NASA scientists are also trying to improve the percentage of carbon dioxide that is recycled back into oxygen. At this time, the life support system converts a little less than 50 percent, but they hope that future technology can recycle at least 75 percent, if not all, of the carbon dioxide on board.
The space station still relies on cargo missions to bring fresh supplies to astronauts, but future missions that leave Earth orbit will not be able to rely on supply missions for support, so improvements to these systems of life support will be vital for those trips.