Educational Value of Experiments on Life Support Systems with Ground-Based Aquatic Habitats
Drayer, Gregorio E.
Howard, Ayanna M.
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On April 10th 2010, at the Kennedy Space Center, President Barack Obama pronounced his “Remarks on Space Exploration in the 21st Century." The President included closed- loop life support systems (LSS) as a technology that “can help improve daily lives of people here on Earth, as well as testing and improving upon capabilities in space." A challenge to enable research on LSS is the need for educational capacities that may open up opportunities for teachers and students to teach, learn, and experiment with a small-scale version of these systems. Such is the case in higher-education institutions with programs in life sciences and engineering. These may have educational platforms available in their laboratories to, for example, study attributes of robustness or optimality in controllers driving servomechanisms and electric motors, but there is no small-scale platform available to study the ecophysiological performance of higher plants in an isolated artificial ecosystem. This paper presents aquatic habitats as educational platforms for experiments in closed-loop LSS, and the lessons learned while working with undergraduate students at the Human-Automation Systems Lab of the Georgia Institute of Technology. It presents the challenges that these systems pose to students in engineering and sciences, and highlights the opportunities to support higher-education-level teaching and learning of concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.