(CBS Local) — For kids who want to grow up to become astronauts, the question of what they’re going to eat on the long trip to another planet may have been answered. Scientists say they have created a way to turn an astronaut’s own poop back into food.
While it’s not the most appetizing thought in the world, researchers at Penn State University say their waste treatment process could solve many issues tied to preserving and growing food in space.
“Each component is quite robust and fast and breaks down waste quickly,” Professor Christopher House said in a university news release. “That’s why this might have potential for future space flight. It’s faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.”
In the journal, Life Sciences in Space Research, the researchers say that their experiments produced a biomass that was 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats.
“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,'” Prof. House adds.
The Penn State team broke down liquid and solid waste using a microbial reactor that converts matter into an edible substance similar to animal feed. The reactor also doesn’t use oxygen in the conversion process, making the system even more valuable on long space flights.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station already recycle some of the water contained in their urine, however, all solid waste is still ejected into space where it burns up in the atmosphere.
“If astronauts are going to make journeys that span several years, we’ll need to find a way to reuse and recycle everything they bring with them,” Mark A. Blenner, Ph.D., told Phys.org.