NASA has struggled with how astronauts will feed themselves in the months and years it will take to reach Mars and, perhaps one day, the outer reaches of the galaxy. It is one of the biggest challenges facing NASA’s research into manned voyages and now researchers think they might have found an extremely resource-efficient, albeit bizarre, solution. NASA hopes to create the ultimate “closed loop” system and turn poo into food.
NASA was successful in their study of growing vegetables in space that started in May 2014. Then news emerged that NASA was also trying to turn human waste into reusable fuel in space. Now the space agency has taken things to another level. NASA announced last week that it has awarded a grant worth up to $200,000 a year to a Clemson university project which aims to create a closed-loop system that could turn human waste into food, dietary supplements, or other useful materials for use during long-term space travel.
They received $1.6 million in grants for a three-year period. In a press release, the agency said, “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. The faculty selected and their colleagues help assure a robust university research community dedicated to advanced space technology development.”
The project is called Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel. “These early career researchers will provide fuel for NASA’s innovation engine,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. NASA has relied on commercial carriers like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences to traverse into space and deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Delays and explosions have proven that NASA has to be ready for a situation where no supplies would be able to be sent to the ISS.