Worms For Food

Moon Palace One  — what a poetic name! — is an enclosed biosphere at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It measures 1,700 square feet and has three rooms, of which one is living quarters. The other two rooms are taken by a greenhouse. The capsule is an “ecosystem” where technology such as fuel cells allowed it’s “occupants” to be 100% self-sufficient.

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Captain Xie Beizhen (centre) and crew members Wang Minjuan (right) and Dong Chen (left) of the ‘Moon Palace One’ pose for photos in front of the chamber for cultivating plants after living in the closed lab for 105 days on 20 May 2014 in Beijing, China

One man and two women, the three volunteers, lived inside Moon Palace One for 105 days.

The astronauts in training look happy, smiling and not in the least malnourished. Why wouldn’t they be? For 105 days they ate sufficient quantities of carbs, vitamins and proteins. They grew herbs and ate… worms. Mealworms, to be precise.

mealworm

Mealworm life cycle. Mealworms are the brown worm-like larvae of darkling beetles. They are the second of four stages of life and exist to eat and grow until they have enough energy stored to begin transformation into pupae and then beetles.

Western space exploration specialists met Chinese experiments with skepticism. High protein content notwithstanding, a prospect of eating worms would take away from the romantics of space travel, wouldn’t it? Getting their nutrition from eating mealworms would lower astronauts’ morale, was the assumption.

The study’s goal was to confirm that consuming worms for an extended period of time was feasible as nutrition during space missions. Another objective was to research an effect of such extreme diet on astronauts’ morale.

Hu Dawei, one of the project researchers,  says that worms “may look disgusting at first glance, but they are actually the cleanest and healthiest food source.” He also reminded the interviewers that the United Nations has recommended mealworms for starving people in poor areas such as Africa. “So we thought why can’t they be used by astronauts in space?”

Walk Out

Obviously, they can. Never mind that, as Dawei admits, “It did take them [the volunteers] some time to adapt to the diet.”

None of the three people had ever tasted mealworms before the experiment, but they managed without incident and, after the experiment concluded, all three volunteers looked and felt perfectly fine. Neither one, however, planned to include worms into their everyday diet. Space travel is all different matter!

China’s most recent space mission was Shenzhou 10, on June 11, 2013. China has grandiose plans for future space exploration, including building a fully operational space station in Earth orbit and sending humans to the Moon.Chineese Astronauts

 

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