Wednesday 01 October, 2014

Worms can form part of astronauts’ diet: Chinese study

Published On: Thu, May 22nd, 2014 | Astrophysics | By BioNews

Three volunteers participated in a Chinese space programme experiment of surviving on a worm diet for more than three months in order to prove that humans can endure long space journeys with this type of diet.

The three volunteers were enclosed in the Moon Palace One, a man-made biosphere simulating the space journey.

The worm diet to sustain astronauts was first proposed by Chinese scientists in 2009, as a solution to the complicated issue of diet crisis on longer space journeys.

Tests were carried out at the Moon Palace One, a closed, man-made biosphere at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, which is China’s largest and most sophisticated facility developing self-sustaining life support systems in space.

Volunteers spent 105 days on a diet of insects, including larvae of a beetle known as Tenebrio as the main source of protein and showed little physical or mental discomfort.

None of the volunteers had previously eaten worms, though in China worms constitute a part of the diet in several regions.

The food regime was not completely based on the insects as 45 percent of the meals comprised vegetables grown in the same controlled atmosphere.

With positive outcomes, scientists are now planning to conduct the next experiment based on 100 percent larvae diet.

“Worms may look disgusting at first glance, but they are actually the cleanest and healthiest food source,” Hu Dawei, a researcher involved in the project, told reporters.

According to Hu, other countries have considered sending livestock to the space mission on long journeys, but this poses difficulties like their slaughter in closed atmosphere with zero gravity.

Besides, on such long trips, astronauts may create an emotional bond with the cattle meant to be eaten, Hu added.

China is competing with other developed nations in space research programmes and is aiming at building permanent lunar or Martian outposts in the decades to come.

One of the major challenges to such ambitions is the diet of the space explorers.

However, China’s short-term plans include a permanent space station, the Tiangong, that orbits the earth, and exploration missions to the moon, that at the moment are unmanned.

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