Supplying Breathable Air to the International Space Station

Super Air CleanersScientists at the Marshall Space Flight Center created the International Space Station's Environmental Control and Life Support System. The ECLSS is a huge recycling operation that generates power and collects and reuses water and air. To support life, the station has to maintain the supply of breathable air and the right humidity continuously. The station's life support system filters out carbon dioxide and harmful vapors. Scientific experiments and even human bodies produce toxic vapors that harm air quality.


Water pressurized in tanks supplies most of the oxygen for life support through electrolysis. The space station's solar panels supplies electricity to render water into oxygen gas and hydrogen gas, NASA Science reports. This system offers the advantage of being compact, energy-efficient and consistent. Other experimental technologies require a great deal more space and labor, and aren't yet sufficiently reliable for providing breathable air for the space station without a mechanical system.


Super Air CleanersA NASA researcher was the first to discover the power of houseplants as air cleaners. Plants produce oxygen and act as natural air filters, improving the quality of indoor air. Certain plants are particularly effective at removing common toxins that are produced by common building and furnishing materials.

The process of off-gassing from carpets, upholstery and structural materials results in air that harms human health. Environments in space including the International Space Station are sealed. On earth, a sealed building can result in what is called sick building syndrome, which leads to respiratory problems and other symptoms.

Common Houseplants Can Remove Toxins

Common houseplants such as spider plants have a remarkable ability to remove harmful toxins and provide fresh oxygen. Plants split water to produce hydrogen and oxygen during photosynthesis. This process has the same result as the space station's life support system. These natural air filters can give astronauts and other residents of the space station breathable air.

Space Farming

Super Air CleanersInternational Space Station scientists are working on a diverse array of indoor farms to clean the air. By filtering carbon dioxide, the farms would supply breathable air and increase the food supply.

Theoretically, these robot-staffed space farms might produce approximately 500 pounds of oxygen annually, according to "Popular Mechanics." Growing food on the space station would also cut down on the expense of supply runs.

Adapting Greenhouse Designs

The scientists are adapting different greenhouse designs for different environments in space. A Russian team aboard the International Space Station has experimented with slowing the rate of fertilizing food crops to suit low-gravity growing conditions.

Super Air Cleaners

The ongoing research and development of solutions for managing air quality on the space station has to potential to affect how we manage clean air on earth. Scientists continue to explore plant-based air cleaning systems.


Peter Wendt is a writer living in the Texas Hill Country. He enjoys blogging, reading, fresh air, and space exploration. If you're interested in a space-age quality air purifier, Peter recommends