Astronauts on a deep space mission to Mars may be able to grow their own food in space — using their feces. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have come up with a potential solution to both dilemmas. We know you may be eating, so we’ll try to keep this as scientific as possible, but it basically involves — brace yourself — converting astronauts’ poop into something they can eat.
“We envisioned and tested the concept of simultaneously treating astronauts’ waste with microbes while producing a biomass that is edible either directly or indirectly depending on safety concerns,” said Christopher House, a professor of geosciences at Penn State, said in a statement. “It’s a little strange, but the concept would be a little bit like Marmite or Vegemite where you’re eating a smear of ‘microbial goo.’ “
Researchers have found a way to grow food on deep-space missions using the astronauts’ feces.
A team of Penn State researchers said their waste treatment process could solve issues like preserving and cooking food in space. Bringing enough food to last months- and years-long voyages to Mars and beyond has been a long-time problem for researchers, said Christopher House.
In the journal Life Sciences in Space Research, the researchers said their process produced food that was “52 percent and 36 percent fats, making it a potential source of nutrition for astronauts.”
House described the biomass as a “smear of microbial goo” that resembled Vegemite or Marmite — food spreads made from leftover brewers’ yeast.
The researchers used a microbial reactor to break down liquid and solid waste similar to the process used to make animal feed. Researchers said their technique is valuable to space travel because no oxygen is used during the conversion process.
“Each component is quite robust and fast and breaks down quickly,” House said of the technique that involves treating feces to grow edible foods. “That’s why this might have potential for future space flight. It’s faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.”
Penn State’s news release said astronauts aboard the International Space Station currently repurpose some urine for drinkable water, but the process is energy intensive. And solid waste management, which involves ejecting waste into space where it burns up in the Earth’s atmosphere, is a hurdle, too, House said.
If the process would be fine tuned to be able to reuse that waste to make it into food for astronauts, House said: “That would be a fantastic development for deep-space travel.” House reports the system they tested isn’t ready for space flight quite yet.
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