Learn about the interaction between man and plant and the interdependence of the two in an space training experiment in an airtight chamber.
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The Advantages of Small Satellites Nigel Packham is a researcher at the Johnson Space Center. He will spend the next 15 days in this small airtight chamber. The experiment will test for ways to make breathable air where none previously existed and at the same time testing the capacity of plants to live off the expelled air from people living in close proximity. This experiment is part of the search to create a regenerative life support system for use in space. An essential part of this experiment was to examine the interaction between man and plants because not only do you need air to breath, your food need its air too. One without the other would eventually result in the death of both. The airtight chamber that Nigel currently calls home is 9 ft x 9ft. All the amenities of life are in there with him including computers, phones, emails and an exercise machine. The purpose of the experiment requires Nigel to live a basically normal life while in chamber doing all the things that would normally be done by people living and working away from natural self-generating sources of air. The airlock which houses Nigel, all his work equipment and personal objects are attached by a sound-proof door to a chamber which houses a variety of wheat grasses. The rooms are connected by passages which circulate the flow of air from one room to the other and back. Using the age old process of photosynthesis, the plants will provide oxygen to Nigel and simultaneously remove carbon dioxide from the air. Carbon dioxide produced at increased amounts particularly during strenuous exercise necessary for the long-term fitness of astronauts would result in a toxic buildup of CO2 unless breathed in by the plants. The wheat growth chamber requires about as much area to house its eight baths of wheat grass as Nigel does to live. It is a fairly high-space requirement in a generally space conscious world. This seemingly simple experiment could provide a vital ingredient for the long-term survival of man in space. The wheat grass is grown in several stacked hydroponic paths out of the constant light of three high-pressure sodium lamps. They can grow a full cycle from seed to harvest in about 90 days providing fresh air and food along the way. On the occasions that he enters the wheat growth chamber, Nigel describes it as literally a breath of fresh air. The plants have reacted very well to using Nigel’s expelled air and react quickly to changes in his metabolic output. When he exercises, it's like feast time for the plants. Nigel describes it as if the plants know he’s there. The experiment successfully concluded proved the viability of air regeneration through the interaction of man and plant. However, once the experiment ends, the real work begins, analyzing the data. Nigel will now be thoroughly tested to see how his body has reacted to the artificial conditions and the reliance of his body on a single source of oxygen for 15 days. By looking at ways to create a regenerative life support system capable of maintaining itself and a range of humans living together, NASA have designed the ultimate in future homes, an organic technology hybrid which provides not just shelter but air and food as well.