Life on Mars is one step closer to reality today. The
University of Guelph officially opened its Controlled
Environment Systems Research Facility and launched a new
element of the country’s space program – sustaining life in
deep space.

It is the most sophisticated and unique facility of its kind
in the world in the field of advanced life support. The
facility will have the highest level of Canadian technology in
controlled environment systems research, eventually containing
14 of the plant science world’s most sophisticated hypobaric
(reduced pressure) chambers. The chambers – the first of which
was introduced today – will allow researchers to study the
contributions of plants in supporting human life during
long-term space missions such as that to Mars. “Now that
Canada’s robotic arms are doing their jobs in orbit, advanced
life support for long missions into deep space is the next
phase,” said project leader Mike Dixon, a plant agriculturist
who has been studying how to sustain life in space for more
than 15 years. “We’re going to Mars in the next 20 years. This
facility will allow the University to promote new and emerging
technologies and participate in partnerships exploring space

It is certain that future human exploration of space must be
based on a biological life-support system, Dixon said.
Currently, space-mission vehicles are able to carry just
enough air, food and water to keep crews alive for short
missions. But during long space missions, the needs of the
crew can be met only by developing renewable life-support
systems based on plants and micro-organisms. Plants are the
most efficient means of sustaining life in space. They provide
food and add oxygen to the atmosphere by removing carbon
dioxide and helping eliminate polluting byproducts. They also
help provide water and recycle waste.

“We believe that to choose our future, we must lead the way,”
said U of G president Mordechai Rozanski. “This unique
facility definitely puts us at the forefront of the frontiers
of science. It also allows us to foster collaborative
interactions among European, American and Canadian
specialists, helping us create and transfer new knowledge.”

The new facility and hypobaric chambers will allow researchers
to rigorously monitor the effect of growing plants at various
pressures to sustain life in orbit. It will also support
research in indoor air quality, recycled water, waste
remediation, selection and breeding of plants in controlled
environments, and the development and testing of new sensor
technologies. The $7.9-million research facility was funded by
the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI); Ontario Innovation
Trust (OIT); Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural
Affairs (OMAFRA); Centre for Research in Earth and Space
Technology (CRESTech), an Ontario Centre of Excellence; as
well as numerous industrial supporters. “Investment in the
facilities, equipment and technology – in short the tools for
research – will help increase the capability of the University
when it comes to research and innovation,” said OIT chair
Michael Gourley.

David Strangway, president and CEO of the Canada Foundation
for Innovation, added: “The launch of this new facility is a
vibrant example of what the CFI was created to accomplish by
strengthening our capacity to innovate. It will give a
tremendous boost to the global leadership of the University of
Guelph, of Ontario, and ultimately, of Canada.”

While Ian Rowe, president and CEO of CRESTech, said “Dr.
Dixon’s work wonderfully illustrates the innovative technology
being developed in Ontario universities. We’re proud to have
helped initiate the public-private partnerships that are
creating this new niche for Canada’s space program.”

Representatives from several international space agencies
attended the building’s opening and are holding meetings in
Guelph this week to discuss the future of advanced
life-support research. They include the Canadian Space Agency,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Space
Agency and National Space Development Agency of Japan.

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For more information, contact:

Prof. Mike Dixon,

Department of Plant Agriculture

(519) 824-4120, Ext. 2555

For media questions, contact:

Communications and Public Affairs,

519-824-4120, Ext. 3338.