10 Apr
Using Recycled Urine to Grow Food in Space Using Recycled Urine to Grow Food in Space

Using Recycled Urine to Grow Food in Space

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What could be more appetizing after a long flight to Mars than sinking one's teeth into a juicy red tomato grown in pee?

The BBC reports that the first thing a visitor sees upon entering Jens Hauslage's tiny office in the German space agency DLR is a fish tank filled to the top with urine. In the middle of the tank, a pair of clear plastic cylinders house a tomato plant each.

But are they edible, wonders the reporter? Absolutely, according to Hauslage.

How edible? After taking a bite, the reporter notes, "To be brutally honest, it’s not the nicest tomato I have ever tried: the skin is a little tough and the taste is slightly bitter. But it is, nevertheless, a healthy, edible tomato."

Human urine is already the main source of water for astronauts working aboard the International Space Station. This is made possible by a complicated system that recycles water from sweat, washing, and toilet waste. But can it be realistically used to grow food to sustain colonies on Mars? After all, space travelers can't live on protein bars alone.

The challenge, Hauslage suggests, is to re-create the elements on Earth -- oxygen and microbes, essentially -- that will enable a remote colony to grow food.

Much of the urine Hauslage uses is artificial, but some comes from human donors. Oddly enough, with all the urine in Hauslage's lab, there's not much of a stench.

“The degradation of urine into carbon dioxide and ammonia is really fast,” he explains, “and the bacteria inside our filters are fast too.”

Later this year, a satellite with two small greenhouses will be launched to see how the tomatoes fare in space.

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Read 1383 times Last modified on Thursday, 30 March 2017 09:45
Jim Lillie

Jim began writing for newspapers and designing for publishing companies at a time when both industries were just beginning to make the switch from manual to digital platforms. Jim lives in Boulder, Colorado with his teenage son.

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