Turkey’s first space travelers will convert carbon dioxide into oxygen with microalgae
The experiment, which will be carried out as part of Turkey’s first manned spaceflight, will examine the performance of microalgae species in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen through sensors.
The Turkish Space Agency (TUA) and TÜBİTAK Space Technologies Research Institute have identified 13 experiments planned for Turkey’s first manned space mission to be carried out in the 100th anniversary of the Republic.
One of these experiments, the “Microalgal Life Support Units for Space Missions” project aims to develop a life support system for microalgae species adapted to harsh conditions in the world to perform growth and endurance tests under zero gravity conditions, to examine their metabolic changes, to determine their carbon dioxide capture performance and oxygen production capabilities.
The project, which is led by Berat Haznedaroğlu, Assistant Professor at Boğaziçi University Institute of Environmental Sciences, involves 8 scientists from TÜBİTAK Marmara Research Center (TÜBİTAK MAM) and Istanbul Medeniyet University, while TÜBİTAK Space Institute also supports the preparation of the experimental setup.
While determining 5 different types of microalgae to be sent into space within the scope of the experiment, Haznedaroğlu and his team informed Turkey’s first space travelers Alper Gezeravcı and Tuva Cihangir Atasever about the project.
“We will conduct molecular analyses of metabolic changes of microalgae in zero gravity environment”
Haznedaroğlu stated that the microalgae photosynthesis unit they designed will be taken to the space station by Turkey’s first space travelers during their 14-day mission.
Haznedaroğlu said, “We will enrich the carbon dioxide of the space station and give it to the microalgae photosynthetic unit. In this unit, we will examine the performance of microalgae species that we have specially selected, including species that we and Medeniyet University have isolated from Antarctica in the 4th National Antarctic Science Expedition, adapted to harsh living conditions, by means of sensors to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen for 14 days. At the same time, we will make molecular analyzes of the metabolic changes of microalgae in zero gravity environment.”
Haznedaroğlu said that their goal is to identify the most successful microalgae species within the framework of this short space mission, and to develop these species for technological applications to meet the needs of different crews and passengers in subsequent space missions. Haznedaroğlu said that a 20 cubic centimeter experimental cube will be sent into orbit and that they have started the steps of the internal design of the experiment, preparation of the electronic parts of the algae and preparation for biological analysis.
Haznedaroğlu said that the practical and theoretical training process has been completed for both space travelers, and that they have carried out the simulation of the experiment they will carry out in space in a laboratory environment, noting that they are currently in the process of assembling the set and that safety tests will begin shortly.
Haznedaroğlu underlined that safety tests are necessary to ensure that the samples are not damaged during the launch, and that the experiment will be ready for launch upon completion of these tests.
“Samples will be preserved by freezing in space”
Pointing out that different systems are used in space stations, Haznedaroğlu said that carbon dioxide is converted into oxygen with different systems for air renewal:
“In long missions such as the Moon and Mars missions, it takes a long time to deliver cargo from Earth in case of a mishap or a need. For Mars, we are talking about a period of 6 months. In this case, we are trying to create a biogenerative system that can meet the needs, such as fresh oxygen, food, wastewater treatment, recycling pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater to become fertilizer for other plants to be grown in the space station or feed for animals, recovering precious metals, and obtaining energy. In our first mission, we will determine their performance in a short period of time. Our goal is to have species that are successful in the long term ready to meet different needs.”
Haznedaroğlu stated that at the end of the space mission, the samples will be taken into a solution called “RNA protector”, which will freeze and protect the metabolic states of microalgae in the space station, and that they will first come to the USA and then to Turkey through the cold chain, and said, “When they arrive in Turkey, we will compare their metabolic changes with RNA sequencing methods, together with the results of the experiments we are taking simultaneously in the world. We will use our species with good performances in our next missions for different biotechnological applications.”
Emphasizing that algae have a very important place in the formation of the atmosphere, Haznedaroğlu concluded his words as follows:
“Algae played a very important role in increasing the oxygen ratio in the Earth’s atmosphere from 5 percent to 21 percent. Algae, which increase the oxygen level, can also increase biodiversity by supporting the formation of a habitable atmosphere. Therefore, the role of algae in space studies is very important. Within the framework of the Turkish Space Agency Science Mission