The list of NASA Awards Grants that fund technologies with the intention of transforming future space exploration has been published. And there was one entry that caught the public eye: turning poop back into food.
While this idea might sound like total crap, it's going to be an essential obstacle to overcome if we ever want to send humans as far as Mars.
There's only a limited amount of supplies that can go in a rocket to Mars, and there's already a demand for food, oxygen and rocket fuel. It is an engineering challenge to stuff a spaceship with enough food for roughly nine months for a one-way mission (and longer if the crew plans on coming back home). However, if the crew could simply pop their poop into some sort of recycling machine, and eat the synthetic food that comes out, then this would make space travel much easier. It would reduce the amount of food needed to be taken on a voyage and maybe lengthen the time astronauts could stay in space.
The grant is a total of $200,000 (£127,200) a year for up to three years. The lucky winners that will be making use of this funding to recycle poop back to food are researchers from Clemson University in South Carolina.
You can find their winning entry under "Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel," on the NASA statement.
However, space travelers might not be so delighted about the thought of consuming their own recycled poop. The mental repulsion shouldn't be too difficult to overcome though since astronauts already drink their own recycled pee. But at the moment, we have no idea what the poop-food might taste like.
In the meantime, astronauts have started enjoying ISS-grown lettuce. Much more palatable.