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6.9 Russian CELSS Studies

The Russians were the initial pioneers into the field of CELSS. The concept started with the great visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and the more detailed analyses of biospheres by V.I. Vernadsky advanced this scientific field. The first experiments into closed, unmanned ecosystems were performed by the Russians in the 1950s and 1960s. This work expanded, culminating in the manned closed Bios-3 facility, a 315 cubic meter habitat located at the Institute of Biophysics, Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

The first sealed manned experiment occurred in 1965 when algae was used to recycle air breathed by humans in a closed facility in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. The algae was chlorella (a photosynthesizing unicellular organism). It absorbed the carbon dioxide that the humans breathed out and replenished the air with oxygen. The culture of chlorella was cultivated under artificial light, needing eight square meters of exposed chlorella per human to achieve a balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, the water and nutrients were stored in advance, and work started into recycling those as well. By 1968, the overall system efficiency had been raised to 80-85% by recycling water and other gases.

Next, the Russians started adding regenerative food crops to the system, e.g., wheat and vegetables.

The Bios-3 facility has conducted a number of long duration two-people and three-people CELSS experiments. Crews have inhabited the sealed facility for periods of up to six months. Their only contact with the outside world was via telephone, television and the windows.

Bios-3 is divided into four equal quarters. One quarter provides the housing for the crew -- three single cabins, a kitchen, a toilet, and a control room with various equipment for food processing, measurements, and repairs, as well as systems for additional purification of air and water when necessary. The other three quarters of the facility are where the wheat, vegetables, and other food plants are grown, as well as the cultures of chlorella.

The crews plant the food, cultivate it, and harvest it -- managing the entire system and processing the harvest.

In these experiments, natural air and water recycling met most of the crew's needs, and the crops produced over 50% of the food needs of the crews.

Notably, the plants could not clear all the excess organic gaseous emissions, and a thermo-catalytic filter was employed to achieve this. Drinking water was additionally purified by ion-exchange filters. Water for other uses was simply boiled.

"Crew who stayed inside the complex for six months, did not manifest any signs of deterioration to their health, including no harmful effects to the microflora of their skin and mucous membranes, nor the contractions of any allergies from contact with the plants. Tests also reveal that the air, water and vegetable parts of the food did not lose their qualities while inside the complex." (ref: Gitelson)

One of the main challenges has been achieving equilibrium of the ecosystem and a higher degree of autonomy - human interaction in the system has been critical to the health of the system, and we haven't come close to an autonomous system. Another challenge is creating and maintaining a sufficiently diverse and efficient collection of plant species capable of supplying man's nutritional needs while also recycling all of man's excretions.

For further details, a translation of a Russian report was published by NASA and might still be available in print or on microfiche.

Key researchers in the Bios-3 facility cooperated with the designers of Biosphere 2 (discussed below) up through Mission 1. Some WWW information on Bios-3 is available on the Biospherics website. > Space Colonies > Russian CELSS

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