- Published on Thursday, 01 March 2012 00:53
- Written by Staff Reporter
ITALY – Packaging technology plays a key role in improving man’s life not just on earth, but also in space, according to Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who gave a key presentation at IPACK-IMA (28 February – 3 March, fieramilano, Milan).
Packaging advancements have made it possible to carry out essential everyday activities, such as the preservation of food and drugs as well as of many other products that require special care.
However, packaging technology also has important applications in extreme environments such as space missions, according to astronaut Paolo Nespoli, vice-commander of a 159-day space mission on board the International Space Station and the first Italian astronaut to complete a long-term mission in space.
Speaking at the IPACK-IMA opening conference, Nespoli said, “The Space Station is a perfectly balanced ecosystem where nature is replaced by a set of machines. For example, water is purified and recycled, and what little cannot be cleaned enough for drinking is converted into hydrogen and oxygen and reused.
“The Station is also an isolated, closely confined environment: two critical conditions that can produce severe psychological problems and undermine astronauts’ sense of well-being and comfort,” he noted, highlighting the importance of accounting for every activity in space and ensuring they do not have any ill effects.
Nespoli explained that packaging technology is a key element in space missions because goods and materials on board a spacecraft must be carefully packaged to withstand the stress generated at launch. In addition, they also have to be well preserved throughout the long months spent at the space station
From food, technical goods, astronauts’ personal belongings, right down to the waste produced during life in orbit, everything in space is specially packaged to help make all activities performed during a space mission as comfortable as possible for both man and his environment.
Space packaging must be both safe and durable. Food as well as any personal care item used by astronauts on board the Space Station is placed inside special packages capable of withstanding the extreme pressure produced by launch.
The outer package is usually made of two blocks of a special foam material whose inner side is shaped to match the content, while the outer side is shaped to match the container in which it will be lodged. Each item is recorded, fitted with Velcro and usually strapped to prevent opening in weightlessness, even when the content is removed.
In addition, all packages must be fireproof (or coated with a fireproof layer), antistatic and must not release toxic substances when heated. They must also be as light as possible and should be collapsed or cut without crumbling.
The demands that space travel have made of packaging have become springboards for the development of new technologies that are better able to meet the challenges of life on Earth. Issues such as inhospitable climates, and travel to inaccessible locations, all require special solutions for the preservation and protection of essential goods.
However, the future challenges faced by technological development cannot be adequately met unless innovation is inspired by respect for man, said Nespoli, noting that several events at IPACK-IMA that center on the topics of technological progress, respect for mankind and eco-sustainability in the packaging industry are a step in the right direction.
“Technological development can conquer space,” Nespoli commented, “but it must also be firmly grounded in its mission to meet the needs of our planet and its inhabitants.”