This week, NASA astronauts tasted the first space lettuce and learned how to create vitamins and other useful materials with human waste.
If NASA truly wants to send humans to live in places beyond planet Earth, they are going to have to make sure that people have the best chances of survival. This means packing as many essential Earth materials from food to vitamins to plastics as efficiently as possible. According to a report from the Times of India, the agency is already making some fascinating strides toward this goal.
Researchers aboard the International Space Station have eaten the first ever lettuce that was grown in outer space. Simple romaine leaves, the lettuce represents a milestone in space exploration. Now, in addition to freeze-dried foods sent from Earth, astronauts have confirmed that it is in fact possible to generate fresh food in space. Keeping plants around also provides the added benefit of waste processing.
But fertilizers aren’t the only use for human waste in space. Researchers at Clemson University have received a $200,000 yearly grant to figure out how to use urine and exhaled carbon dioxide as building blocks for a number of useful materials. Professor Mark Blenner from Clemson reports, “A particular strain of yeast can be genetically manipulated to create polymers, or plastics, used for 3D printing, as well as Omega 3s, which lower heart disease risk and protect skin and hair.” A genetically modified strain of yeast will incorporate nitrogen from urine and exhaled CO2 into the production of these materials.
The grant for research on human waste is just one of eight given out to universities across the nation, each of which will focus on an innovative technology that could ultimately help astronauts out in space.