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In human spaceflight, a life support system is a group of devices that allow a human being to survive in space. US government space agency NASA,[1] and private spaceflight companies use the term environmental control and life support system or the acronym ECLSS when describing these systems for their human spaceflight missions.[2] The life support system may supply air, water and food. It must also maintain the correct body temperature, an acceptable pressure on the body and deal with the body's waste products. Shielding against harmful external influences such as radiation and micro-meteorites may also be necessary. Components of the life support system are life-critical, and are designed and constructed using safety engineering techniques.

Human physiological and metabolic needs[edit]

A crewmember of typical size requires approximately 5 kg (total) of food, water, and oxygen per day to perform the standard activities on a space mission, and outputs a similar amount in the form of waste solids, waste liquids, and carbon dioxide.[3] The mass breakdown of these metabolic parameters is as follows: 0.84 kg of oxygen, 0.62 kg of food, and 3.52 kg of water consumed, converted through the body's physiological processes to 0.11 kg of solid wastes, 3.87 kg of liquid wastes, and 1.00 kg of carbon dioxide produced. These levels can vary due to activity level, specific to mission assignment, but will correlate to the principles of mass balance. Actual water use during space missions is typically double the specified values mainly due to non-biological use (i.e. personal cleanliness). Additionally, the volume and variety of waste products varies with mission duration to include hair, finger nails, skin flaking, and other biological wastes in missions exceeding one week in length. Other environmental considerations such as radiation, gravity, noise, vibration, and lighting also factor into human physiological response in space, though not with the more immediate effect that the metabolic parameters have.


Space life support systems maintain atmospheres composed, at a minimum, of oxygen, water vapor and carbon dioxide. The partial pressure of each component gas adds to the overall barometric pressure.

By reducing or omitting diluents (constituents other than oxygen, e.g., nitrogen and argon) the total pressure can be lowered to a minimum of 21 kPa, the partial pressure of oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere at sea level. This can lighten spacecraft structures, reduce leaks and simplify the life support system.

However, the elimination of diluent gases substantially increases fire risks, especially in ground operations when for structural reasons the total cabin pressure must exceed the external atmospheric pressure; see Apollo 1. Furthermore, oxygen toxicity becomes a factor at high oxygen concentrations. For this reason, most modern crewed spacecraft use conventional air (nitrogen/oxygen) atmospheres and use pure oxygen only in pressure suits during extravehicular activity where acceptable suit flexibility mandates the lowest inflation pressure possible.


Water is consumed by crew members through drinking, cleaning activities, EVA thermal control, and emergency uses. It must be stored, used, and reclaimed (from waste water) efficiently since no on-site sources currently exist for the environments reached in the course of human space exploration.


Life support systems could include a plant cultivation system which allows food to be grown within buildings and/or vessels. However, no such system has flown in space as yet. Such a system could be designed so that it reuses most (otherwise lost) nutrients. This is done, for example, by composting toilets which reintegrate waste material (excrement) back into the system, allowing the nutrients to be taken up by the food crops. The food coming from the crops is then consumed again by the system's users and the cycle continues.

Microbe detection and control[edit]

The NASA LOCAD (Lab-on-a-Chip Applications Development) project is working on systems to help detect bacterial and fungal growths in spacecraft used for long-duration spaceflight.[4]

Space vehicle systems[edit]

Gemini, Mercury, & Apollo[edit]

American Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft contained 100% oxygen atmospheres, suitable for short duration missions, to minimize weight and complexity.[5]

Space Shuttle[edit]

The Space Shuttle was the first American spacecraft to have an Earth-like atmospheric mixture, 22% and 78%.[5] For the Space Shuttle, NASA includes in the ECLSS category systems that provide both life support for the crew and environmental control for payloads. The Shuttle Reference Manual contains ECLSS sections on: Crew Compartment Cabin Pressurization, Cabin Air Revitalization, Water Coolant Loop System, Active Thermal Control System, Supply and Waste Water, Waste Collection System, Waste Water Tank, Airlock Support, Extravehicular Mobility Units, Crew Altitude Protection System, and Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator Cooling and Gaseous Nitrogen Purge for Payloads.[6]

Orion crew module[edit]

The Orion crew module life support system is being designed by Lockheed Martin in Houston, Texas.[citation needed]


The life support system on the Soyuz spacecraft is called the Kompleks Sredstv Obespecheniya Zhiznideyatelnosti (KSOZh).[citation needed] Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz contained air-like mixtures at approx 101kPa (14.7 psi).[5]

Plug and play[edit]

The Paragon Space Development Corporation is developing a plug and play ECLSS called commercial crew transport-air revitalization system (CCT-ARS)[7] for future spacecraft partially paid for using NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) money.[8]

The CCR-ARS provides seven primary spacecraft life support functions in a highly integrated and reliable system: Air temperature control, Humidity removal, Carbon dioxide removal, Trace contaminant removal, Post-fire atmospheric recovery, Air filtration, and Cabin air circulation.[9]

Space station systems[edit]


Because of fire risk and potential physiologic effects, Skylab used 28% Oxygen and 72% Nitrogen.[5]



The Mir and Salyut space stations contained an air-like Oxygen and Nitrogen mixture at approximately sea-level pressures 93.1 kPa (13.5psi) to 129 kPa (18.8 psi) with an Oxygen content of 21% to 40%.[5]

International Space Station[edit]

Bigelow commercial space station[edit]

The life support system for the Bigelow Commercial Space Station is being designed by Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, Nevada. The space station will be constructed of habitable Sundancer and BA 330 expandable spacecraft modules. As of October 2010, "human-in-the-loop testing of the environmental control and life support system (ECLSS)" for Sundancer has begun.[10]

EVA systems[edit]

Extra-vehicular activity (EVA) systems primarily consist of the traditional space suit, but can also include self-contained individual spacecraft.[citation needed]

Space suits[edit]

Both space suit models currently in use, the U.S. EMU and the Russian Orlan, include Primary Life Support Systems (PLSSs) allowing the user to work independently without an umbilical connection from a spacecraft. A space suit must provide life support, either through an umbilical connection or an independent PLSS.[citation needed]

Natural systems[edit]

Natural LSS like the Biosphere 2 in Arizona have been tested for future space travel or colonization. These systems are also known as closed ecological systems. They have the advantage of using solar energy as primary energy only and being independent from logistical support with fuel. Natural systems have the highest degree of efficiency due to integration of multiple functions. They also provide the proper ambience for humans which is necessary for a longer stay in space.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "International Space Station Environmental Control and Life Support System" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 11 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Patrick L. Barry (November 13, 2000). "Breathing Easy on the Space Station". Science@NASA. 
  3. ^ F.M. Sulzman & A.M. Genin (1994), Space, Biology, and Medicine, vol. II: Life Support and Habitability, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 
  4. ^ Trudy E. Bell (May 11, 2007). "Preventing "Sick" Spaceships". Science@NASA. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Davis, Jeffrey R.; Johnson, Robert & Stepanek, Jan (2008), Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine XII, Philadelphia PA, USA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pp. 261–264 
  6. ^ "HSF – The Shuttle: Environmental Control and Life Support System". NASA. 
  7. ^ "Paragon Projects". Paragon. January 2011. 
  8. ^ "Commercial Crew and Cargo Paragon CCDev". NASA. November 30, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Press Release – Paragon Space Development Corporation Completes All Development Milestones on the NASA Commercial Crew Development Program". Paragon Space Development Corporation. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Volunteers Test Bigelow Life-Support Gear". Aviation Week. 2010-10-22. Retrieved 2010-10-23. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Eckart, Peter. Spaceflight Life Support and Biospherics. Torrance, CA: Microcosm Press; 1996. ISBN 1-881883-04-3.
  • Larson, Wiley J. and Pranke, Linda K., eds. Human Spaceflight: Mission Analysis and Design. New York: McGraw Hill; 1999. ISBN 0-07-236811-X.
  • Reed, Ronald D. and Coulter, Gary R. Physiology of Spaceflight – Chapter 5: 103–132.
  • Eckart, Peter and Doll, Susan. Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) – Chapter 17: 539–572.
  • Griffin, Brand N., Spampinato, Phil, and Wilde, Richard C. Extravehicular Activity Systems – Chapter 22: 707–738.
  • Wieland, Paul O., Designing for Human Presence in Space: An Introduction to Environmental Control and Life Support Systems. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA Reference Publication RP-1324, 1994

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_support_system — Please support Wikipedia.
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Wed, 23 Apr 2014 10:15:00 -0700

“Let's face the facts,” she said, “Eighty percent of all life on the planet is found in the oceans. The ocean provides a global life support system that helps regulate climate and supplies half of the planet's oxygen needed for one in every two breaths ...
Here And Now
Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:17:58 -0700

How people who already have more money than they could enjoy in many lifetimes could not only want more…but apparently want it so badly that they are willing to destroy the life support system of the planet they live on, is beyond my ken. So I won't ...


Wed, 23 Apr 2014 06:52:30 -0700

The woman first took the RU486 (mifepristone), which shuts down the baby's life support system, at the Hospital. She then returned two days later to take the prostaglandin, which stimulates powerful uterine contractions to expel the child. However ...
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Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:45:00 -0700

The Sea Lion Sound exhibit utilizes the Life Support System, a technology designed to reduce water waste while providing a quality and healthy habitat for the animals. Evans said the system saves about 11 million gallons of water annually compared to ...
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Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:21:17 -0700

We need to be protective of the planet's life support system - air, water, soil - to allow all of the ecosystems to work.” NSU's activities were in conjunction with international observances of Earth Day, which is held each April 22. Events are held ...


Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0700

The last child I see is seven-year-old Scott Howell, whose wheelchair is also a life support system. He is wearing a T-shirt that says Please Help Save My School. Scott is laughing as he is wheeled back to his classroom down one of the brightly ...


Wed, 23 Apr 2014 07:48:45 -0700

The strap, which helped hold in place Bean's life support backpack (known as the Portable Life Support System, or PLSS) displays gray spots and streaks that are "actually embedded moon dust," according to Heritage. Bean wrote on the white cloth strap ...
Tue, 22 Apr 2014 23:22:54 -0700

The 10-year-old Michael was on a life-support system inside the hospital's intensive care unit for three days during the Christmas holidays. Joining the young family in the pilgrimage is Calvin Kean, a native of Cavite. Kean looks at John Paul II as ...

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