Space, often called “the final frontier”, is a place of many unknowns and equally many possibilities. And without the efforts of countless people from around the world “science-ing” their way through impossible problems, we would still be regarding the celestial bodies from Earth. With 15 years of successful human habitation of the International Space Station in low Earth orbit, NASA is shifting its focus from what makes space travel possible to what makes it livable in the long-term. And solar fuels can play a central role!

With their eyes on manned missions into Deep Space and Mars, NASA is looking for ways to keep astronauts supplied without deliveries from Earth. This July NASA will release an Appendix to the Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion 2016 (SpaceTech-REDDI-2016) program. This Appendix will aim to fund University-based Space Technology Research Institutes ($3 million/year for 5 years) directed at Bio-manufacturing for Deep Space Exploration and/or Computationally Accelerated Materials Development for Ultra High Strength Lightweight Structures. From NASA:

“Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a widely available resource in space missions from human respiration, the Martian atmosphere, and potentially from the oxidation of organic mission wastes. CO2 is stable, readily separated, purified, and stored, making it a viable feedstock molecule for manufacturing. Water is also widely available and a valuable source of hydrogen, which is required to manufacture many of the desired mission products (i.e., hydrocarbons). Using carbon dioxide and hydrogen as the primary source molecules, and supplemented with other available resources such as mission wastes and planetary materials (e.g., regolith), NASA is interested in developing highly efficient and reliable manufacturing systems that increase the rate, amounts, and range of target products.”

NASA recognizes that the life support systems of the future will need to utilize waste streams to generate products like food, pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, fuels, and construction/building materials. To make this possible, NASA is encouraging collaborations between physical scientists and biologists at university-based institutions, non-profit organizations, and industrial partners.

SOFI is thrilled to see support of cross-disciplinary and multi-entity collaboration at this level. There is no doubt the technology developed for these deep space missions will impact technology designed for use on Earth. We hope this call from NASA will inspire conversation and collaboration at our member institutions and beyond. We can’t wait to see the impossible become possible!

To see the official call please visit the NSPIRES website and select the “Space Technology Research Institute” from the Open Solicitations. Application is limited to US-based entities.