Would you like some dungemite on your toast? Astronauts on deep-space missions could recycle their own feces to make food.
It’s a long way to Mars, and astronauts will need to eat. Limited cargo room for long-haul flights means future space travelers will need to recycle and reuse everything possible … including poop. If for whatever reason eating your own waste sounds appealing, NASA has good news for you. Researchers may have found a way to re-purpose astronauts’ poop into food.
A team from Penn State funded in part by NASA figured out how to quickly break down solid and liquid human waste using microbes. The resulting substance is a gooey paste like Vegemite, and it could be consumed or used to make food in space.
The researchers think this system could be beneficial for future long-term missions, like trips to Mars, which could take months or years. Packing food on board a spacecraft increases fuel costs, and growing it takes up valuable room.
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What was novel about our work was taking the nutrients out of that stream and intentionally putting them into a microbial reactor to grow food,” House says. The team used methane produced from the process to grow the microbe Methylococcus capsulatus, which is used in animal feed and offers a good mixture of protein and fat.
This initial study is just the beginning for developing a fully functional microbial reactor system that can transform waste into food, but it holds a lot of promise. Says House: “It’s faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.”