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Home Blogs Laurie Ruberg Betting My Life on Plants: BLiSS—A Bioregenerative Life Support Sim for the iPad

Betting My Life on Plants: BLiSS—A Bioregenerative Life Support Sim for the iPad

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Written by lruberg45!
10 Apr 2012

iPhoneIcon_DOMEStudying plants is a journey back to our roots.  Just one or two generations ago (or less if you live on a farm), your family’s livelihood was closely tied to successful planting, growing, and harvesting of plants as a source of income.  Today most of us buy our vegetables at grocery stores, which makes it difficult to know where the plants we eat were grown.  We’re even more removed from plant growth processes when we buy prepared foods.  Most of the wheat-based food we buy is processed and packaged as cereal, bread, flour, pasta, cookies, cakes, or crackers. We buy potatoes by the pound or in the form of fries or chips.  Lettuce is usually bundled by cluster, enveloped in plastic, or served up diced at the salad bar.  Soybeans are most often purchased as soybean meal, vegetable oil, tofu, or soymilk.  Human cultivation of Earth is closely tied to our ability to obtain and grow plants from which we feed ourselves as well as the animals we raise.

Artist's conception of a greenhouse on Mars

When humans go to the moon or Mars, they'll probably take plants with them. NASA-supported researchers are learning how greenhouses work on other planets.  Read more in this NASA Science News Story.

Image Credit: This NASA image portrays an artist's concept of greenhouses on Mars.

Imagine spending weeks, months, or even years living and working on a Moon or Mars base, or being on a long-term mission traveling across the solar system.  In any of those situations wouldn’t a bin of wheat, lettuce, soybeans, or potatoes living and growing alongside you be a welcome earthly companion? More importantly, plant companions would provide critical life support through their release of oxygen, respiration of potable water, and production of food nutrients. Earth-based offices and homes commonly use potted plants as interior decorations, humidifiers, and even natural air fresheners.  Human space travelers will most likely view plants as lovely, succulent, compatible life partners.

In a normal weekly schedule, we plan our meals, make a shopping list, and purchase our perishable and processed food supplies at the grocery store.  On a Moon or Mars base or long term space mission, the crops we select, plant, grow, and rely on for our life support supply of oxygen, water, and nutritional needs must be planned out well in advance. This is what the NASA-Sponsored Classroom of the Future BLiSS iPad app is designed to do: help future space travelers learn how to plan a crop growth system that can support a human crew for long periods of time when frequent re-supply is not feasible.

Image from: "Life Support Concepts for Space Travel" by Raymond Wheeler, Biological Systems Branch, NASA Kennedy Space Center, F

The BLiSS app is based on the Bioregenerative Life Support System research sponsored by NASA, which was conducted at a variety of NASA centers and academic institutions, but was primarily supported by the Biological Sciences Branch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.  The COTF at Wheeling Jesuit University is developing the BLiSS App based on an award winning biology education CD-ROM published in 1999, called BioBLAST(R).  The BLiSS app is also featured in the COTF MoonWorld virtual world simulation.

The diagram (at left) shows how interconnected and interdependent plants and humans are in a controlled biological system.  The human (and plant) respiration processes provide the CO2 and water that is needed by plants. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plant intakes the CO2 and water expelled by humans and light energy from the sun (or an artificial light source) to produce carbohydrates (food), oxygen, and potable water—greatly needed by their human partner.

So future space explorers, we invite you to download and play the BLiSS iPad app (forthcoming – Spring 2012).  We challenge you to put aside your grocery shopping list and take on the role of lunar or Mars explorer and test your design for a plant-based life support system that could support you and other crew members for weeks, months, and even years in a bioregenerative life support system far away from Earth’s protective atmosphere, soil, and human-friendly climate.


The screen shot from the BLiSS iPad sim shows four bins of lettuce (equaling 64 m2) planted.  The plant settings have not yet been RUN, so the data for this lettuce crop are not displayed.  After the RUN button is selected the data will be displayed.  More detailed data are presented in the RESULTS page (which is shown below the BLiSS icon near the image top).
Last update (11 Aug 2012)


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Betting My Life on Plants: BLiSS—A Bioregenerative Life Support Sim for the iPad
Written by: DynaeFullwood On: 21 May 2012

This is perfect for a project that I'm working on. Thanks!

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