A module once destined to house astronauts aboard the international space station has found a new purpose as a test bed for future life-support systems.

Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are refitting a cylindrical common module originally slated as a space station habitation compartment for use in developing improved life-support systems for current and future spacecraft.

“We’re primarily involved in regenerative air and water systems development for the space station,” Robyn Carrasquillo, NASA’s engineering manager for environmental control and life support systems at Marshall, said in a telephone interview.

The 3,855-kilogram common module had not yet been modified to suit astronaut housing needs aboard the ISS due to budget constraints that led station planners to pull the habitation module from the launch manifest, NASA officials added.

The 8.8-meter long, 4.8-meter wide module will be connected to two others at Marshall that were designed specifically for life-support system research. Engineers use one existing module to study wastewater collection, while the other is filled with treadmills and hygiene equipment similar to that aboard the space station, Carrasquillo said.

“We take the humidity from condensation and sweat we generate and test our water system,” she added.

The mock space station allows engineers to simulate the atmosphere inside a spacecraft in which life-support systems must function. Engineers can inject contaminants into the air or water supplies and study how different systems react, Carrasquillo said.

The modules also can help NASA engineers derive more efficient environmental control systems for future spacecraft, such as the planned Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and others destined for long-duration missions.

“Right now, we’re developing a candidate air system for the CEV and we’ll be looking ahead to lunar base technology that will hopefully close the loop even further,” Carrasquillo said. “Our goal is to completely close the air and water loops.”

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