Establishing a base on the Moon in the 2030s is an ambition that China , determined to become a space power , has long cherished, but faces enormous challenges. One of them is the development of technology that allows the prolonged survival of the human being in such a hostile environment without depending on bulky shipments from Earth. Although Beijing is making significant advances in these models, known as "bioregenerative life support systems", or BLSS: a group of students broke a record in 2018 by staying 200 days in a row in a laboratory, self-contained and sealed, without need to receive any type of supply from abroad, as they have now explained in a recently published study .
The eight students from Beihang University, in Beijing, specialized in aeronautics, spent a total of one year and five consecutive days in the 120 square meters of the Yuegong Laboratory ("Palace of the Moon"). The four men and four women, aged between 24 and 30, were divided into two teams that took over twice: the first group served 65 days indoors before being replaced by the second, who spent two hundred days. At the end of this period, the first one returned and completed the remaining 105 days
During this time, they obtained 98% of the materials they needed from recycling. Only 2% – toilet paper, cleaning products, seeds – came from abroad, as explained in a preliminary report, not reviewed by other experts, published on the internet. The experiment, they specify, aimed to "develop techniques to make the system work and adjust the stability of the system in conditions of long operation and shift changes of crews" on the Moon or other celestial bodies.
BLSS systems are artificial and closed ecosystems in which oxygen, water and the main sources of food are recycled through the use of biotechnology to recreate an environment similar to those of the Earth. As explained by the participants in the experiment, it is "the most advanced life support technology, but also the priority and most complex in manned exploration activities of outer space, such as the lunar bases of the future." Several countries, including the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union have been working on the development of various versions of this technology for decades.
El Yuegong, the report explains, was divided into three modules with a total area of 160 square meters: two dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables under LED lights, and the living area, where the students had four beds, a living room, bathroom, kitchen and a room for breeding insects. One year before the experiment completed by the eight youngsters, another less ambitious 180-day trial had already been carried out.
During the year of the experiment, the cultivated plants —35 species in total: strawberries, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, tomatoes and cucumbers – generated all the oxygen needed for the crew and removed the carbon dioxide generated. The oxygen level remained stable even in the moments of change between the two teams, with slight fluctuations always within the safety levels
Urine and dirty water were treated in a bioreactor and sterilized with UV rays for use in watering the plants. Drinking water was obtained from condensation: "no water was introduced from the outside at any point in the experiment," the report boasts. Plant waste was used to grow mushrooms; After that, they served as food to worms, which in turn, treated and cooked in a kind of bun, provided an animal protein supplement to the students
Participants' faeces were mixed with plant debris and left ferment to produce the carbon dioxide necessary for vegetables. Part of the waste was used as compost, the rest was compressed and stored.
Throughout the experiment, all its participants -without previous pathologies- remained physically and mentally healthy, the study maintains. Achieved “100% oxygen and water regeneration through recycling to sustain crew members. 99.7% of the urine, 67% of the solid waste and 73% of the dry weight of the food were recovered ”, says the study.
Cooperation agreement between China and Russia
Last week, the possibility of a base of the Asian country on the Moon has taken another step forward. The Chinese space agency, CNSA , and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, signed a memorandum of cooperation to plan the way to a future joint station.
“The International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) will be a complex of facilities for research and conducting experiments to be established on the surface and / or lunar orbit, designed to carry out multidisciplinary research and with different objectives ”, indicates the joint statement of CNSA and Roscosmos. Although it makes clear that the project will be led by both agencies, it opens the door to the participation of other countries.
The memorandum had the signatures of the directors of the two agencies, Zhang Kejian and Dimitri Rogozin, respectively. Zhang had declared in 2019 that he expected to see a Chinese lunar station "in about ten years." The CNSA plans to "establish the base probably at the south pole of the satellite, " as the Chinese chief engineer for the design of the Chinese lunar project, Wu Weiren, had explained in November to the state television CCTV.
The idea, as conceived by the scientists of the ambitious Chinese space program , is that in the first years of operation the base is operated mainly by robots, and astronauts travel to it for short-term missions. In the longer term, between 2036 and 2045, longer missions could be carried out
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