This Week in Space

Nov 3rd 2023

This Week in Space 86

Home is Where the Air Is

Hosted by Rod Pyle, Tariq Malik

Life Support to Mars with Grant Anderson

New episodes posted every Friday.
Guests: Grant Anderson
Category: News

We all know you must carry breathable air and drinkable water with you into space... but when traveling to Mars, how can you ensure your life support system will keep working all the way there and beyond? Technology is fallible, and when talking about life support—breathable air, temperature control, and potable water—all are non-negotiable and critical to survival. It's enough to give engineers nightmares. Grant Anderson, the president and CEO of Paragon Space Development Corporation, has been working on these problems since early in his career, and his company is developing mission-critical systems today. We join Grant to learn about how we can be assured that Tariq and I will still have enough air to tell bad space jokes in month 6 of our trip to Mars.


  • Predicting a fierce upcoming solar maximum starting in late 2024, about a year earlier than forecasted
  • Exploring the potential impact on Earth of dangerous explosions called “kilonovas” from distant neutron stars
  • Remembering Apollo 16 astronaut Ken Mattingly, who has passed away at age 87

Main Topic: The Challenges of Life Support in Space:

  • Guest Grant Anderson gives his background - degrees from Stanford, 10 years at Lockheed, starting Paragon in 1993 to provide life support for extreme environments
    Paragon’s first biological experiments in space focused on enclosed stable ecosystems with shrimp and algae
  • Anderson explains how sweat and humidity are collected, gases removed, and water purified for drinking on the ISS
  • The hosts are amazed by Paragon’s tech saving 98% of astronaut urine and sweat, critical for deep space missions
  • Qualifying life support hardware for zero-g remains challenging - failures in space rarely match those in 1g on Earth
  • Looking ahead to Mars, Anderson is concerned about abrupt breakdowns in life support and inadequate medical capabilities
  • Rotating spacecraft to create artificial gravity could help address unknown impacts of long-term weightlessness
  • Anderson details innovations like selective air bypass to efficiently clean only parts of the airflow inside a spacecraft or habitat
  • Miniaturization of sensors and electronics has helped, but some key needs remain
  • Grant emphasizes life support isn’t “sexy,” but it’s the critical technology needed for all human spaceflight
  • Pyle and Malik joke about the challenges of scaling up from SpaceX’s Dragon life support for crews of 4-7 to Musk’s visions of 100 people on Starship missions
    Anderson reflects on his surprising prediction that bio-regenerative life support for
  • Mars transit might operate more like a brewery than a farm

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