Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 26, 2001
U of G professor heads for NASA
A University of Guelph professor who has been researching ways to help send humans to Mars has been awarded a fellowship from the National Research Council and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Mike Dixon, a faculty member in the Department of Plant Agriculture, will take sabbatical from December to May at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. He will work with colleagues at NASA to test instruments and methods that measure how plants respond in environments similar to that of space travel, where the atmospheric pressure varies. They will also establish practical guidelines for applying these techniques on the International Space Station and in greenhouses designed for growing plants on Mars. Gaining a better understanding of how pressure affects plants is the next key environmental issue for scientists in their bid to send humans on extended space missions, Dixon said. "Human exploration of space must be based on a biological life-support system," he said.
"It is now accepted by spaces agencies around the world - NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency - that during long-term missions, such as the construction of a lunar or Mars observatory, the needs of the crew can be met only by developing self-sustaining, renewable life-support systems based on plants and micro-organisms."
While Dixon is in Florida, graduate students and researchers will continue doing related experiments at Guelph in the new $7.9-million Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility (CESRF), which opened in May. The facility is the most sophisticated and unique of its kind in the world in the field of advanced life support. It will eventually contain 14 of the plant science world's most sophisticated hypobaric (reduced atmospheric pressure) chambers. Dixon said his sabbatical is "critical" to the development of the CESRF facility. "We're still new at this business of variable pressure. I'll be gaining experience with people who are doing similar kinds of research at NASA, but not nearly at the scale or capacity that we have with our new facility. It's the next big step in implementing the variable-pressure growth experiments that we plan for the facility."
Dixon has been studying how to sustain life in space for 10 years. He predicts that in another 20 to 30 years, people will be going to Mars.
Prof. Mike Dixon
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