With the first manned mission to Mars planned for the early 2030’s, preparations for a round trip likely to last two years has helped focus NASA space planners to develop a highly efficient and sustainable environment on board space shuttles. Successful and failed experiments for producing supplies necessary in space have demonstrated the power these technologies can have back on Planet Earth.
“We basically have a limited environment in space,” says Cade Coleman, a current NASA astronaut. “It causes us to think about how we get stuff there, how we maintain it, and how we get the most use of it.”
Think of space as a “technology accelerator,” Coleman stated.
Providing food and water in space may be NASA’s biggest impact to the sustainability movement back home. “NASA’s need to conserve all resources in space has caused technologies to trickle-down to earth,” says Green Sense’s chief executive, whose farm in Chicago, IL utilizes NASA technology to grow produce. 
While water is in short supply, NASA has developed innovative ways to filter wastewater on-board using various chemical and distillation techniques. The result is high quality potable water that has been reclaimed from the air, sweat, and even urine. “Most people are horrified when they see what we drink!” Coleman said during an interview with the BBC. “But the filtered water up there just tastes beautiful, it really is delicious.”
Since 2008, more than 2,700 gallons of water have been reclaimed on board the International Space Station from urine alone. Since the technologies integration into the space program, NASA has licensed it to companies on Earth, which have created portable filters for places where fresh drinking water is scarce. “The inspiration to use this technology in developing countries was directly related to what was required for it be successful in space,” says Ken Kearney, vice president of sales and marketing for the US based firm, Water Security Corporation.
NASA’s technology has also been instrumental in pushing the limits of what it means for a building to be considered “green”. The buildings on campus have virtually “no footprint” and utilize technologies from space including solid oxide fuel cells to generate electricity that are currently being used in both the Mars Rover and the reclamation system that reuses wastewater to flush toilets.
While space holds a nearly limitless boundary for exploration and advancement in scientific understanding, NASA’s push for a more sustainable and closed-loop cycle represents the pinnacle of responsible resource management.
Published: May 31, 2016
Thomas, Daniel. Four ways Nasa is teaching us how to live more sustainably. BBC News, April 20, 2016. Web. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35362202