Living in a bubble for two years would drive most of us batty. For biologist Jane Poynter, it has driven her life’s work. One of eight scientists chosen to reside in and research the 3.15-acre Biosphere 2 in the early ’90s, Poynter parlayed what she learned from that experience into a firm that bridges the gap between the life sciences and aerospace engineering. Paragon Space Development Corp., which she cofounded with chemist Taber MacCallum, a fellow Biosphere 2 crewmember and now her husband, has supplied hardware equipment to more than 70 spaceflight missions involving, among others, the International Space Station and Mir. Paragon’s patented Autonomous Biological System has allowed the first aquatic plants to be grown in space–and the first animals to be bred through complete life cycles in space. Last year, Paragon announced a joint venture with Odyssey Moon Ltd. to put a biological greenhouse on the moon’s surface, in which Paragon will attempt to grow and flower a mustard plant within two weeks. Though small in scale–the greenhouse itself is about the size of a shoebox–the project could have huge implications for creating a plant-filled habitat on the moon. Or on Mars, which is the stuff of Poynter’s science-fiction-laden girlhood dreams. “I’ve been wanting to see us in Mars for an awfully long time,” she admits. Another big project, though less romantic, could very well put Paragon’s stamp on all future spaceflight missions: a $1.4 million grant from NASA to develop from scratch a life-support system that maintains temperature, humidity, and oxygen levels for astronauts in space.
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