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NASA's Cady Coleman on the necessity of circular economy thinking

November 12, 2015

In preparing for a mission to Mars sometime in the future, NASA astronaut Cady Coleman came to VERGE 2015 because the space agency must hone sustainabiity practices and closed loop systems to perfection.  

Everything that goes aboard a spaceship bound for Mars must be able to be reused — or repurposed for an alternative use — and basically never thrown away.

"Sustainability, for someone like myself planning to go to Mars, is a closed loop system, not being able to go home or bring supplies. The things we need to think about are exactly the things we need to think about for a sustainable earth," Coleman told GreenBiz Chairman and Executive Editor Joel Makower in a studio interview during VERGE.

In an enclosed environment for years and then on a planet without oxygen, a Mars-bound space mission will not get replenishments of food, water, station equipment, tools or clothing sent from home. Nope, instead water is reused over and over. Some food is grown from seeds. And astronauts figure out how to fix things — anything — because replacements are not possible.

Coleman said NASA figured that companies and individuals innovating around sustainability might have some ideas to share with NASA.

"We'd like them to partner with us," she said of businesses working on closed loop, circular economy systems and products. "The space station itself is open for business. It is a place not only for us to test sustainability technologies, but others as well."