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Waste not, want not: NASA hopes to recycle poop into food

Mr. Ambien

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Didn't expect this to be coming from the Weather Network under the Calgary-smoke forecast:

Katie Jones

Digital Reporter

Friday, August 28, 2015, 9:00 - The latest news out of NASA sounds more Sci-Fi than simply scientific.

Looking to future generations and the possibilities of colonizing far away planets, NASA-funded research is exploring ways of harnessing the power of an alternate food source -- in piles of human waste.

Clemson University in South Carolina is one of eight universities selected to study innovative, early stage technologies that will address high-priority needs of America's space program.

Researchers will receive $200,000 USD a year, for up to three years, to work on the proposal officially titled, 'Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel.'

Their mission -- to find out how to recycle human feces into a synthetic food that could sustain astronauts during extended journeys through outer space.

The project is expected to have significant impacts on space exploration by "providing the means to produce food...on site at distant destinations using synthetic, biology-based approaches," according to an official NASA statement.

While the premise may sound grossly unappealing, it comes as a logical step for the space program.

Back in May, a crew of six astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tasted the first crop of red romaine lettuce grown in space. Before that, astronauts enjoyed hot beverages for the first time in space after an espresso machine was installed in the space station in April.

Prior to both of these ground-breaking innovations in the space kitchen, astronauts have been consuming their own sweat and urine for some time now.

Earlier in 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly embarked on a historic year-long mission to space. His journey marks the longest stretch a human being has ever spent in space. NASA famously tweeted about the unique items that will be featured on Kelly's menu while he's away.

The I.S.S. is capable of recycling more than 90 per cent of the liquids it receives, including urine and sweat. It takes about eight days to filter the body liquids, but in the end, is more pure than most drinking water.

As for what happens when astronauts go number two -- solid bowel movements get collected onto an unmanned spaceship that jettisons from the space station, burning up as it returns to Earth.

As baffling as the concept might seem to some, the reasoning behind it may help put some minds at ease.

NASA has relied on paid commercial carriers to send supplies and food to and from the ISS since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Being able to sustain food sources and supplies without relying on deliveries from back home has long been a priority for the space agency. Especially as they get closer to interplanetary exploration.

If such advancements are made, applications here on Earth could do wonders for future catastrophes involving global food shortages.

New studies will hopefully lead to a few new developments in recycling human waste, but a taste tester may prove more elusive.

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