What’s for dinner? NASA funds research for turning poop into astronaut meals

Space Station
Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock
NASA is looking at the possibility of getting space travelers to eat their own poop as a solution for keeping them fed during ultra-long missions. Such a method, as distasteful as it sounds, could prove vital if we’re ever to embark on journeys into deep space, as the amount of food required would be impossible to carry from Earth.

But just hold back from imagining some peckish space traveler reaching into his underpants for his evening meal. Of course it won’t work like that. Not quite, anyway. In search fof a solution, NASA turned to researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina, who plan to create an effective way of turning human waste into food using bioprocessing technologies.

Clemson University’s project is one of eight university-led proposals across a range of subject areas that have each received a $200,000-a-year research grant for up to three years of work. Each team will explore “innovative, early stage technologies that will address high-priority needs of America’s space program,” the agency said.

The poop-based project, led by Mark Blenner, will study ways of  using microorganisms to turn a very unpleasant waste product into something tasty to eat. Or, at the very least, into something to eat.

Possibly dreading NASA’s latest food plan, wannabe astronauts will probably hope the agency is making excellent progress with its 3D-printed-pizza technology, while even a lettuce-only diet might suddenly sound like a really great option. But digested pizza and lettuce both end up as the same thing, so if Blenner and his team can come up with efficient, space-safe technology for turning human waste into edible food then we can all make an educated guess about what’s for dessert.

Commenting on the grants, NASA’s Steve Jurczyk was keen to express the importance of encouraging more advanced research to help transform space exploration.

“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,” Jurczyk said, adding that the selected projects, “help assure a robust university research community dedicated to advanced space technology development.”

Clemson University’s proposal may sound like the basis for a menu from hell, but with this kind of technology, the day when humans embark on mammoth missions into deep space edges ever closer.

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