NASA is now working on a compaction device that might convert astronaut waste into tiles that can later be utilized for practical uses such as radiation shielding. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a concept that is useful on Earth but especially significant if you’re an astronaut who is weeks or even months away from a critical resupply flight.
NASA’s Waste to Base Materials Challenge, which took place this spring, invited citizen scientists from across the world to come up with fresh ideas and concepts for turning astronaut rubbish on places like the moon or Mars into useable material.
The emphasis was on sustainability.
Future explorers on Mars will not always be able to rely on frequent resupply deliveries. As a result, they must be able to reuse any and all resources at their disposal.
The challenge elicited a wide range of intriguing answers, from growing plants in a hydroponics system using cotton from old astronaut suits or even packing foam and urine to employing algae to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.
The most heinous aspect of the NASA assignment, without a question, was how to deal with fecal waste. One example is the fermentation of faeces in order to break it down. The goal is to achieve “anaerobic decomposition very close to what happens with composting on Earth.” Another idea was to use excrement as a natural fertilizer.
Sustainable waste management would not only help crews survive in a resource-limited environment like Mars, but it would also promote the moral need to protect other worlds from the environmental catastrophe and man-made climate change that has ravaged Earth. We practically have plastic in our blood as a result of it.
So, when we travel to a new planet, it only seems logical that we want to get off to a good start. That means doing what we didn’t do on Earth and beginning to recycle—one piece of interplanetary rubbish at a time.
Reference- NASA website, TIME Magazine, The Guardian, Popular Science, Journal Nature