NASA Finding Ways to Re-use Waste

Recycling the Other Stuff

Of course, some of the needs of space flight are more exotic than might be necessary for earthly applications. It’s hard to imagine soldiers recycling their solid wastes, for example, but that will be necessary for a trip to Mars.

How do you do that and make breakfast palatable?

First, you get the water out, because there’s a lot of water in solid waste, and you purify that and drink it again. Then you take the nutrients from the solids, like nitrogen and phosphorus, and use them as fertilizer for the crops that will have to be grown during the mission.

That way at least you’re not forced to sit down to a brown burrito, but rest assured it will all come back some way. Maybe as a freshly grown vegetable.

Warwick is the first to admit he doesn’t know how to accomplish all that. That’s why the center was set up essentially as a think tank. His job will be to bang a lot of heads together and see what comes out.

“I think there are a lot of ideas out there,” he says. “The challenge for the center is going to be to cull through all the ideas and to really make sure that projects that are going to get funded have the appropriate science and engineering behind them.”

The NASA grant covers only the cost of operating the center. Ideas that emerge will have to find separate funding, and the center will act sort of like a broker, lining up government agencies like the Department of Defense, and of course NASA, for the necessary funding.

That’s one of the reasons NASA wanted a commercial side to the project, because that increases the odds of finding other partners.

But the long range goal is extended space travel. It will take a lot of experimentation to find the right solutions.

So if Prof. Warwick invites you to dinner at his place, you might want to bring your own food and drink. At least until he has worked all the bugs out.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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