As cool as space travel is, I don't much envy astronauts. Apart from myriad everyday inconveniences (such as not being able to step out for a breath of fresh air), those poor folk never get to eat any fresh food. Imagine eating out of a tube. Now, imagine being Valeri Polyakov - who spent 437 days in space, eating out of a tube.
Not exactly the most appetizing image, is it?
But that's not the worst of it. What comes in must go out - so where does it all end up? Well, to quote Answers.com: "The urine is filtered into water and solid waste is exposed to the
vacuum of space to freeze and dry it then is shipped down to Earth for
Hopefully you're not reading this during your lunch break.
A more, shall we say - cultivated - solution to these two issues may now be on space travel's vast horizon, thanks to a small group of high school students from Pittsburgh. Competing in the Conrad Foundation's Spirit of Innovation Awards, Team Ouroboros from Upper St. Clair High School have designed a device they call the Perpetual Harvest Space Nutrition System. This system turns humanure and other organic waste into compost, and then uses that compost to grow fresh food. Better yet, space travelers get to breathe some 'real' photosynthesised oxygen.
It all works with the help of a compact bioreactor that converts waste into spirulina (blue-green algae), which is not only a whole lot more efficient than shipping poop bricks back to Earth, it's actually healthy.
So it should come as no surprise that Team Ouroboros members Avisha Shah, Catherine Groschner, Yudi Chen, Matthew Vernacchia, and Brent Heard have just been announced the national winners of the Aerospace Exploration category of the Spirit of Innovation Awards. Kudos to them! Astronauts everywhere will be forever grateful.
Here is their entertaining video presentation:
As they point out, it's a system that could also be used in remote, inhospitable places like Antarctica.