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How to Make the Food and Water Mars-Bound Astronauts Will Need for Their Mission – Universe Today



If we ever intend to send crewed missions to deep-space locations, then we need to come up with solutions for how to keep the crews supplied. For astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), who regularly receive resupply missions from Earth, this is not an issue. But for missions traveling to destinations like Mars and beyond, self-sufficiency is the name of the game!

This is the idea behind projects like BIOWYSE and TIME SCALE, which are being developed by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) in Norway. These two systems are all about providing astronauts with a sustainable and renewable supply of drinking water and plant food. In so doing, they address two of the most important needs of humans performing long-duration missions that will take them far from home.

Even though the ISS can be resupplied in as little as six hours (the time between launch and the time a supply capsule will dock with the station), astronauts still rely on conservation measures while in orbit. In fact, roughly 80% of the water aboard the ISS comes from airborne water vapor (generated by breathing and sweat) as well as recycled shower water and urine – all of which is treated with chemicals to make it safe for drinking.

Food is another matter. NASA estimates that every astronaut aboard the ISS will consume 0.83 kg (1.83 pounds lbs) of food per meal, which works out to about 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) a day. About 0.12 kg (0.27 pounds) of every meal is just from the packaging material, which means a single astronaut will generate close to a pound of waste per day – and that’s not even including the other kind of “waste” that comes from eating!

In short, the ISS relies on costly resupply missions to provide 20% of its water and all of its food. But if and when astronauts establish outposts on the Moon and Mars, this may not be an option. While sending supplies to the Moon can be done in three days, the need to do so regularly will make the cost of sending food and water prohibitive. Meanwhile, it takes eight months for spacecraft to reach Mars, which is totally impractical.

It is little wonder then why the proposed mission architectures to the Moon and Mars include in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), where astronauts will use local resources to be as self-sufficient as possible. The availability of ice on the lunar and Martian surfaces is a prime example, which will be harvested to provide drinking and irrigation water. But missions to deep-space locations will not have this option while they are in transit.

To provide a sustainable supply of water, Dr. Emmanouil Detsis and colleagues are developing the Biocontamination Integrated cOntrol of Wet Systems for Space Exploration (BIOWYSE). This project began as an investigation for ways to store freshwater for extended periods of time, monitor it in real-time for signs of contamination, decontaminate it with UV light (rather than chemicals), and dispense it as needed.
The prototype space greenhouse developed by the TIME SCALE project, which recycles nutrients to grow food. Credit: Karoliussen/HORIZON

What resulted was an automated machine that could perform all of these tasks. As Dr. Detsis explained:

“We wanted a system where you take it from A to Z, from storing the water to making it available for someone to drink. That means you store the water, you are able to monitor the biocontamination, you are able to disinfect if you have to, and finally you deliver to the cup for drinking… When someone wants to drink water you press the button. It’s like a water cooler.”

In addition to monitoring stored water, the BIOWYSE machine is also capable of analyzing wet surfaces inside a spacecraft for signs of contamination. This is important since closed-systems like spacecraft and space stations, you have humidity buildup, which can cause water to accumulate in areas that are unclean. Once this water is reclaimed, it then becomes necessary to decontaminate all the water stored in the system.

“The system is designed with future habitats in mind,” added Dr. Detsis. “So a space station around the moon, or a field laboratory on Mars in decades to come. These are places where the water may have been sitting there some time before the crew arrives.”
Artist’s impression of Biolab. a facility designed to support biological experiments on micro-organisms, small plants and small invertebrates. Credit: ESA – D. Ducros

The Technology and Innovation for Development of Modular Equipment in Scalable Advanced Life Support Systems for Space Exploration (TIME SCALE) project, meanwhile, is designed to recycle water and nutrients for the sake of growing plants. This project is overseen by Dr. Ann-Iren Kittang Jost from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) in Norway.

This system is not unlike the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) or the Biolab system, which were sent to the ISS in 2006 and 2018 (respectively) to conduct biological experiments in space. Drawing inspiration from these systems, Dr. Jost and her colleagues designed a “greenhouse in space” that could cultivate plants and monitor their health. As she put it:

“We (need) state of the art technologies to cultivate food for future space exploration to the moon and Mars. We took (the ECMS) as a starting point to define concepts and technologies to learn more about cultivating crops and plants in microgravity.”

Much like its predecessors, Biolab and the ECMS, the TIME SCALE prototype relies on a spinning centrifuge to simulate lunar and Martian gravity and measures the effect this has on plants’ uptake of nutrients and water. This system could also be useful here on Earth, allowing greenhouses to reuse nutrients and water and more advanced sensor technology to monitor plant health and growth.

Plants cultivated in the TPU autonomous greenhouse. Credit: TPU

Technologies like these will be crucial when it comes time to establish a human presence on the Moon, on Mars, and for the sake of deep-space missions. In the coming years, NASA plans to make the long-awaited return to the Moon with Project Artemis, which will be the first step in the creation of what they envision as a program for “sustainable lunar exploration.”

Much of that vision rests on the creation of an orbital habitat (the Lunar Gateway) as well as the infrastructure on the surface (the Artemis Base Camp) needed to support an enduring human presence. Similarly, when NASA begins making crewed missions to Mars, the mission architecture calls for an orbital habitat (the Mars Base Camp), likely followed by one on the surface.

In all cases, the outposts will need to be relatively self-sufficient since resupply missions won’t be able to reach them in a matter of hours. As Dr. Detsis explained:

“It will not be like the ISS. You are not going to have a constant crew all the time. There will be a period where the laboratory might be empty, and will not have crew until the next shift arrives in three or four months (or longer). Water and other resources will be sitting there, and it may build up microorganisms.”

By having technologies that can ensure that drinking water is safe, clean, and in steady supply – and that plants can be grown in a sustainable way – outposts and deep-space missions will be able to achieve a level of self-sufficiency and be less reliant on Earth.

Further Reading: HORIZON/European Commission

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – The Observer



Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

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“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start recontructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said.

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

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Western Canadian scientists discover what an armoured dinosaur ate for its last meal – Yorkton This Week



More than 110 million years ago, a lumbering 1,300-kilogram, armour-plated dinosaur ate its last meal, died, and was washed out to sea in what is now northern Alberta. This ancient beast then sank onto its thorny back, churning up mud in the seabed that entombed it—until its fossilized body was discovered in a mine near Fort McMurray in 2011.  

Since then, researchers at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alta., Brandon University (BU), and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been working to unlock the extremely well-preserved nodosaur’s many secrets—including what this large armoured dinosaur (a type of ankylosaur) actually ate for its last meal.  

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“The finding of the actual preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is extraordinarily rare, and this stomach recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum team is by far the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date,” said USask geologist Jim Basinger, a member of the team that analyzed the dinosaur’s stomach contents, a distinct mass about the size of a soccer ball. 

“When people see this stunning fossil and are told that we know what its last meal was because its stomach was so well preserved inside the skeleton, it will almost bring the beast back to life for them, providing a glimpse of how the animal actually carried out its daily activities, where it lived, and what its preferred food was.”  

There has been lots of speculation about what dinosaurs ate, but very little known. In a just-published article in Royal Society Open Science, the team led by Royal Tyrrell Museum palaeontologist Caleb Brown and Brandon University biologist David Greenwood provides detailed and definitive evidence of the diet of large, plant-eating dinosaurs—something that has not been known conclusively for any herbivorous dinosaur until now. 

“This new study changes what we know about the diet of large herbivorous dinosaurs,” said Brown. “Our findings are also remarkable for what they can tell us about the animal’s interaction with its environment, details we don’t usually get just from the dinosaur skeleton.” 

Previous studies had shown evidence of seeds and twigs in the gut, but these studies offered no information as to the kinds of plants that had been eaten. While tooth and jaw shape, plant availability and digestibility have fuelled considerable speculation, the specific plants herbivorous dinosaurs consumed has been largely a mystery. 

So what was the last meal of Borealopelta markmitchelli (which means “northern shield” and recognizes Mark Mitchell, the museum technician who spent more than five years carefully exposing the skin and bones of the dinosaur from the fossilized marine rock)? 

“The last meal of our dinosaur was mostly fern leaves—88 per cent chewed leaf material and seven per cent stems and twigs,” said Greenwood, who is also a USask adjunct professor.  

“When we examined thin sections of the stomach contents under a microscope, we were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material. In marine rocks we almost never see such superb preservation of leaves, including the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.” 

Team members Basinger, Greenwood and BU graduate student Jessica Kalyniuk compared the stomach contents with food plants known to be available from the study of fossil leaves from the same period in the region. They found that the dinosaur was a picky eater, choosing to eat particular ferns (leptosporangiate, the largest group of ferns today) over others, and not eating many cycad and conifer leaves common to the Early Cretaceous landscape.  

Specifically, the team identified 48 palynomorphs (microfossils like pollen and spores) including moss or liverwort, 26 clubmosses and ferns, 13 gymnosperms (mostly conifers), and two angiosperms (flowering plants). 

“Also, there is considerable charcoal in the stomach from burnt plant fragments, indicating that the animal was browsing in a recently burned area and was taking advantage of a recent fire and the flush of ferns that frequently emerges on a burned landscape,” said Greenwood. 

“This adaptation to a fire ecology is new information. Like large herbivores alive today such as moose and deer, and elephants in Africa, these nodosaurs by their feeding would have shaped the vegetation on the landscape, possibly maintaining more open areas by their grazing.”  

The team also found gastroliths, or gizzard stones, generally swallowed by animals such as herbivorous dinosaurs and today’s birds such as geese, to aid digestion.  

“We also know that based on how well-preserved both the plant fragments and animal itself are, the animal’s death and burial must have followed shortly after the last meal,” said Brown. “Plants give us a much better idea of season than animals, and they indicate that the last meal and the animal’s death and burial all happened in the late spring to mid-summer.” 

“Taken together, these findings enable us to make inferences about the ecology of the animal, including how selective it was in choosing which plants to eat and how it may have exploited forest fire regrowth. It will also assist in understanding of dinosaur digestion and physiology.” 

Borealopelta markmitchelli, discovered during mining operations at the Suncor Millennium open pit mine north of Fort McMurray, has been on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum since 2017. The main chunk of the stomach mass is on display with the skeleton. 

Other members of the team include museum scientists Donald Henderson and Dennis Braman, and BU research associate and USask alumna Cathy Greenwood.  

Research continues on Borealopelta markmitchelli—the best fossil of a nodosaur ever found—to learn more about its environment and behaviour while it was alive. Kalyniuk is currently expanding her work on fossil plants of this age to better understand the composition of the forests in which it lived. Many of the fossils she will examine are in Basinger’s collections at USask. 

The research was funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation, Research Manitoba, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Geographic Society, Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society, and Suncor Canada, as well as in-kind support from Olympus Canada. 

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What Is It Really Like To Watch A SpaceX Launch Live, In Person – InsideEVs



EDITOR’S NOTE: This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX, which makes and sells aftermarket Tesla accessories. The opinions expressed therein are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs, nor have we been paid by EVANNEX to publish these articles. We find the company’s perspective as an aftermarket supplier of Tesla accessories interesting and are willing to share its content free of charge. Enjoy!

Posted on EVANNEX on June 03, 2020 by Eli Burton

Traveling to the Space Coast to watch a rocket launch isn’t your normal vacation. My trip to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to see the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch began over a month ago.

Photo courtesy of Eli Burton

Back in April, NASA released the planned launch date of May 27th. It was decision-making time. If I was planning to go, I needed to grab flights right away before they sold out or became too expensive.

Traveling for a launch is not as simple as a typical vacation. For one, there’s no guarantee that the launch will go off on the planned date. A rocket launch can be delayed due to technical issues, health of the astronauts, or even be scrubbed seconds before launch due to weather. Regardless, I decided to go and booked my tickets with Southwest Airlines. Southwest has a no-fee change policy. Therefore, I would be protected if NASA rescheduled the launch before my departure or if adverse weather caused delays after my arrival. 

After booking my flight, the month went by and the launch (luckily) remained on schedule. I had an early morning flight out of California on May 25th, putting me in Florida late Monday night. That gave me a one-day window between arrival and launch on Wednesday to capture some photos of Starman and the Rocket.


Next up, launch day. On the days leading up the launch, the weather forecast was grim. Weather reports were forecasting an (ahem)100% chance of thunderstorms during the launch window. Yikes. Trying to stay hopeful, I woke up on the morning of the launch, checked the weather on my phone and it (still) wasn’t looking good.

I call my insiders and they said SpaceX was still proceeding with the launch schedule. “What? How?” I said. Well… the insiders added, “That’s Florida weather for you. It can be a thunderstorm one minute and then be clear the next. The weather in Florida changes faster than the weather forecasters can keep up with it.”

To me this seemed crazy. I live in California where the weather is predictable — especially on the same day of a forecast. Nevertheless, they were right. An hour prior to the launch window of 4:33pm EST, the sky around Kennedy Space Center started to clear up.

Astronauts Bob and Doug were loaded into the crew Dragon capsule by men in black suits (that looked like ninjas), the door was closed, and the access door retracted. Tension was building. We were checking our phones every 15 seconds to confirm the time and make sure we didn’t miss any updates from NASA. Then 10 minutes before launch, it was canceled. There was lightning within a 10-mile radius of the launch pad which violated NASA launch requirements for crewed spaceflight.

Afterward, in heavy traffic, we took an Uber back to our place on the beach. Bummer. On the way back, we found out that the weather criteria was met just 10 minutes after the launch window. So close! You would think: Why didn’t they just wait another 10 minutes? That’s not how it works with NASA. With a NASA mission, it’s either a launch-on-schedule or it’s a scrub. There’s a variety of government-based reasons for this, but specific to an ISS mission — the launch must line up exactly with the orbit of the ISS to limit the amount of time astronauts are in the capsule between entering orbit and docking. 


In any event, the second launch window looked more promising than the first. It was still a 50/50 chance but the real-time satellite imagery showed the storm was breaking up. SpaceX and NASA both put out statements that they were proceeding with the launch. Excitement was in the air. We could all feel it. It was finally going to happen. It had been nine long years since the last time astronauts went to space from U.S. soil. NASA and SpaceX were going to make history. Together.

May 30th, 3:20 pm.

2 minutes before launch: Falcon 9 is fully-fueled.

94 seconds before launch: LOX (liquid oxygen) load is complete. 

60 seconds before launch: Falcon 9 enters start up

35 seconds: SpaceX Dragon is go for launch: “Let’s light this candle!”

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0…

Ignition. LIFTOFF! 



Guest Contributor: Eli Burton is proud to be friends with the Real Life Starman. He is also President and Founder of the My Tesla Adventure Tesla Owner Club. Eli is also co-host of the Tesla Geeks Show podcast and creator of The Adventures of Starman comic book series.

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