Living Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Life Support Systems for Spacecraft and Extraterrestrial Habitats

pp 1-12

Date: Latest Version

Life Support Systems for Manned Mars Missions, Overview

  • Thais RussomanoAffiliated withMicrogravity Centre, The Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do SulInternational Space Medicine Consortium Inc.Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine, King’s College London Email author 


A manned journey to Mars has long since been the subject of science fiction and fantasy, but continued advances in technology have opened up the possibility. The lengthy distance to the planet, together with its hostile environment present dangers to the health and well-being of space-travelers and huge logistical difficulties in terms of adequate resource provision to sustain a crew for a return journey and time on the planet surface. Advanced life support systems have continued to adapt and develop since the flight of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and the NASA led Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, which required open-loop, disposable systems of short duration only. Arrival of the Space Shuttle program and International Space Station led to a shift in specifications, with emphasis on reusability and long-term use. This ongoing process has resulted in a complex life support system capable of sustaining a six-astronaut crew for several months. Key technologies, such as oxygen generation and water recovery systems, have reduced the need for the costly resupply of some materials to the orbiting space station, but replenishment of consumables, propellant, and maintenance equipment continues. Frequent resupply is an unfeasible option for a long-duration deep-space mission, meaning a bioregenerative life support system will be essential. Research continues in this field, with one example being the European Space Agency managed MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) project. Further advances in a system providing the essentials for human survival in a Mars environment, together with technology for the use of the natural in-situ resources of the planet, will undoubtedly open up exploration of this new frontier in the coming decades.


Astronaut Basic life support consumables Bioregeneration system Cosmic radiation Earth’s gravitational force Ecological cycle Environmental life support system Galactic cosmic rays Hostile environment International space station Interplanetary mission Long-duration deep-space mission Low-earth-orbit Mars mission Mars habitat Micro-ecological life support system Recycling and regeneration techniques Regenerative life support technologies Self-sustainable ecosystem Space radiation Water recycling