NASA Brings Sustainable Solutions Back Down to Earth

By Heather Hassel-Finnegan | Sustainable Living, Urban Design

A single shuttle launch to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) costs the federal government upwards of 50 million dollars. Because of this lofty price tag, resources in space must be used extremely cautiously. It’s no surprise that NASA – and its’ international counterparts – have been at the forefront of engineering closed-loop systems that reduce, recycle, and reuse the scarce supplies aboard the ISS.

ISS Green Initiatives

  • Each astronaut aboard the ISS uses only 7 gallons of water a day – compared to the 54 gallons used by the average American.
  • A total of 78% of the water used on the ISS is reclaimed and reused.
  • The breathable air is carefully cleaned and recycled.
  • Each astronaut wastes only 0.5 pounds of food a day – compared to the 4.5 pounds wasted by the average American.
  • Highly advanced insulation keeps the ISS from losing heated air to space.
  • The ISS is fitted with solar arrays that produce the electricity needed for lights, experimentation, and astronaut comfort.

NASA’s Sustainable Innovation on Earth

NASA has become a leader in sustainable design here on Earth too. During the 40th anniversary of the lunar moon landing, NASA broke ground on a project called Sustainability Base. The goal of the project was to apply the same closed-loop systems that originated in space back down to Earth. Much like other NASA outposts, Sustainability Base is meant to be self-sufficient. It utilizes water recycling and energy conserving technologies that were originally designed for space missions. The building is a net-zero energy consumer and uses 90% less water than a traditional building. This achieved through:

Use of Natural Light

The building was built in line with the sun’s arc in order to capture as much natural light as possible. Artificial light is only needed in the building 40 days during the year. The space is defined by large windows and a narrow floor plan that allows all workers to be in close proximity to windows.

Renewable Energy

A combination of solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells provide all of the power necessary for the building to function. The energy used within the building is carefully monitored to correct any inefficiencies in the system. To improve employee engagement, occupants have access to control panels that tell them about their individual energy usage.

Heating and Cooling

Geothermal wells throughout the facility’s footprint help maintain air at comfortable temperatures for building occupants.

Water Use Reduction

The landscaping on-site is drought tolerant. The facility uses locally adapted species that have evolved to survive the climatic conditions of the region. Even the grass is low-maintenance – requiring limited water and limited upkeep.

Water Reuse

Sustainability Base uses the water recycling technology designed for the International Space Station. Greywater from sinks and showers is reused to flush toilets and urinals.

Feature Image: NASA’s Sustainability Base designed by William McDonough + Partners. Image via NASA.

About The Author

Heather Hassel-Finnegan
Heather is a Sustainability Specialist working in the healthcare industry. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and holds a Sustainability Professional Certificate. She has a background in Biology and Anthropology, and much of her past work focused on wildlife biology and conservation. Heather resides in the Philadelphia region with her husband and toddler daughters.