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May 8, 2008

Waiting to Exhale

Posted: 03:16 PM ET

Imagine the anticipation of a countdown before rocket engines roar to life.  Smoke billows, and it's three G's and eight-and-a-half minutes to space.

After you slip the surly bonds, you float over to the window and gaze wide-eyed at the majesty of Planet Earth.  Perhaps you'd spot the Great Wall of China, or even a big hurricane.  I'd have Bowie's "Ground Control to Major Tom" playing on my iPod.

Spaceflight tickles the imagination.  It's the stuff of heroes and explorers.  We remain in awe of the cosmos, and amazed at each incremental step toward the infinite.

Source: NASA

Now take a look at this photo.  The folks at Johnson Space Center in Houston sent this picture to me today.  Not exactly what you imagine while reading Jules Verne or Arthur Clarke.  It might be the NASA equivalent of witnessing hot dogs in the making.

You're looking at a test chamber scaled to be the size of the Orion crew capsule.  Orion, of course, is NASA's next-gen exploration vehicle.  It will carry crew and cargo to the space station and on to the moon.

The umbrella name for the entire program is Constellation, and the space agency is hoping to launch the first manned mission by 2015.

The chamber is the size of a walk-in closet – about 570 cubic feet – and the people sitting inside are volunteers recruited to test a lunar breathing system called CAMRAS.  (NASA likes its acronyms!)  It stands for Carbon-dioxide and Moisture Removal Amine Swing-bed.  Go figure.

But imagine sitting for eight hours in this thing with five other people you just met?  Twenty-three volunteers did just that for a series of tests over a three-week period last month.  The point: to breathe and sweat.  Sounds like the perfect job for an executive producer!

Seriously though, NASA has to measure the amount of moisture and carbon dioxide absorbed by the system so Orion crews can breathe easily and live comfortably in space.  Volunteers were asked to sleep, eat and exercise in the chamber.  Some test sessions lasted a few hours and others were overnight.

CAMRAS uses very little energy.  An organic compound called amine absorbs the CO2 and water vapor from the cabin.  And when the system vents the waste overboard, the vacuum of space regenerates the amine. Think of the venting as wringing out a dirty sponge.

For more on the test and NASA's Constellation Program, visit

- Alex Walker, Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: International Space Station • Moon • NASA • Space

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Franko   May 9th, 2008 1:10 am ET

Nice going NASA, charge the public to see the paper
Cannot bother to put it free online

$27.50 for USA residents or $55.00 international

Franko   May 9th, 2008 2:28 am ET

Nice going NASA, charge the public to see the paper
Cannot bother to put it free online

$27.50 for USA residents or $55.00 international

Harley Simmons   May 11th, 2008 6:50 pm ET

Is there a difference in Rocket Engines taking you into Space than
Magnetic Vortex Jet Engine that is started with DC Voltage Fied
that control the Switching of the Magnets?

They Both will Develop thrust in the Outer Ozone Layer 's and the Magnetic Engine dose not require Oxygen for Combustion.

It simply uses what ever particals that are in vacuume of space to develop its opisit reaction for thrust forward.

The kicker is that it leaves a tral behind it spinning the magnetic gravity in a vortex that you can not see or feel... till it is full of some
solid liquid that creates a tornado or cyclone trail..

Larian LeQuella   May 12th, 2008 2:56 pm ET

Magnetic Vortex Jet Engine? Are you seriously suggesting that it's even remotely like a rocket engine? Fist of all, the technology for a so called Magnetic Vortex Jet Engine is nowhere near mature enough to get a paperweight to fly. Secondly, a rocket will work outside the earth's atmosphere.

I read your comment on the "Green Light" observatory story, and my main conclusion is that you are taking some powerful pharmaceutical chemicals, and you may be ahead of NASA on space trips!

As for NASA... Sadly the agency runs like a government agency, and the only hope we have is that someone kicks these bureaucrats in the jimmy, and get them out of the way. NASA is nothing more than an impediment to the space program.

mystar   May 14th, 2008 8:48 am ET

huh! thats unbelievable, what magic are you using? you need to be carefull guys coz you might kill peoples in your experiments.

Kurt   May 14th, 2008 9:07 am ET

The song is called "Space Oddity", not "Ground Control to Major Tom". You'd think if you had it on your iPod, you'd know.

Steve S.   May 14th, 2008 6:02 pm ET

Been in the space biz for over 29 years, we're a long way from the brute force method of getting people into space. Who would have thought that a benign piece like this would bring out as many whack jobs as a Ron Paul gathering.

Dan B.   May 15th, 2008 4:59 pm ET

Franko, the paper you mention is distributed by a professional society, not NASA, and the charges are from that society to defray their costs for publishing the proceedings. You might try to contact the authors directly for a complementary copy.

Kristen   May 20th, 2008 1:12 pm ET

I love reading stories about what NASA and other space research and exploration organizations are doing. Advances in space exploration and robotics will go a long way toward advancing Earth's culture - imagine what humanity will be like in a couple more centuries! It's amazingly exciting to watch science fiction become reality.

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