The word astronomical aptly describes current price estimates for a manned jaunt to Mars: $40,000 per pound. "That's an expensive can of Coke" for astronauts making the trip, says Brian Sauser of NASA's New Jersey Specialized Center of Research and Training (NSCORT). So NSCORT's mission is not to figure out how to ship food, air, and energy to Mars, but to create and re-create it up there.

Speaking at a recent meeting of Science Writers in New York, the New York science writer's association, Sauser said that in the four years since NSCORT began working with other NASA divisions, many bioregenerative and advanced life support problems have been solved. Need air? Grow plants. During recent Johnson Space Center tests, a human subject lived off plants so easily carbon dioxide was pumped in: They provided too much oxygen, and he didn't return enough CO2 for them. Need drinking water...

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