Living in space isn’t easy. First, there’s the issue of weightlessness – after days on end of floating and bumping around, it's not as fun as it sounds. Then there’s the fact that astronauts are exposed to high radiation levels, increasing their risk of cancer and several other health issues.
As if their lives weren’t challenging enough, space explorers may soon be told to eat food made from their own feces.
Although the idea is quite disgusting, NASA has granted $200,000 a year to a project that recycles human poop into manmade food – because if astronauts are to make trips further in to the solar system, they must be able to generate their own food to sustain themselves.
The American space agency has provided the hefty amount to eight faculty-led teams for up to three years of research to deal with high priority needs for NASA’s future missions. Among the proposed assignments, South Carolina’s Clemson University is supposed to conduct research on “Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel.”
In other words, poop food for long space missions.
Currently, firms like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences bring supplies to astronauts at the International Space Station. However, if scientists develop a way to transform human excrement into edible food using only supplies aboard a space-craft, the services of these commercial carriers will soon become redundant.
“Technology drives exploration, and investments in these technologies and technologists is essential to ensure NASA and the nation have the capabilities necessary to meet the challenges we will face as we journey to Mars,” explained Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. “The faculty selected and their colleagues help assure a robust university research community dedicated to advanced space technology development.”
The work at the Clemson University is led by Dr. Mark Blenner, whose lab takes a molecular-scale approach to improve biological synthesis of fuels and chemicals from renewable biomass, along with developing biosensors for metabolic engineering, environmental detection and other applications, according to their website.
Earlier this year, NASA took a step toward self-sustainability of the astronauts by growing red romaine lettuce in the space for the very first time.