Chinese volunteers complete 180-day space capsule simulation

Signal of change / Chinese volunteers complete 180-day space capsule simulation

By Dorothy Ng / 20 Jan 2017

Chinese volunteers have emerged from a survival experiment where they lived inside a simulated space capsule for 180 days. The mock-up mission began in June 2016, performed by three men and one woman, in Shenzhen China.

The volunteers were isolated in a 1,340 cubic-meter capsule to simulate a deep space journey. A challenge faced by all space missions is how finite food, water, and oxygen can be continually recycled in confined spaces - and this was what the Chinese researchers aimed to master, to advance China as a leader in space exploration.

They cultivated 25 different kinds of plants in the capsule, including sweet potatoes and peanuts, according to CCTV-Plus. The plants form part of an ecological system that recycles and regenerates oxygen and water. The research project run by the Astronaut Center of China is studying how a hermetic environment affects physiological changes, biological rhythms, sleep patterns and emotional well-being.

So what?

This project is an interesting foray into the circular economy. It prompts us to see the Earth as a giant spaceship, floating in the cosmos with finite life-sustaining resources. How can we manage these resources as if we were living in a closed capsule? 

In China's heavy-handed push to contain the pollution crisis and bolster green finance, how might the findings from this experiment surface new gamechanging technologies, inspired by space, to advance sustainable approaches to resource use on earth?

Experiments of this sort are not new. From 1991 to 1993, a team of eight lived inside Biosphere 2, a 3.15 acre closed system laboratory for the study of global ecology. They grew 81% of their food, and recycled their air, water and wastes with ecological engineered systems. The project was a landmark study of our planet's biosphere and closed system technologies for both earth and space. Today the second space race takes such habitat research to the next level with the lure of space commercialization, and the ambition of sustaining the human race by becoming a space-faring civilisation. 

Regionally, China is vying with Japan to shape Asia's approach to outer space. China has been ramping up its space exploration efforts in recent years, with its sight set on sending humans to the Moon in the near future, and perhaps Mars too. Does this capsule experiment inch them one step ahead in the global space race?


What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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