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Space Plastic

August 23, 2017

Astronauts’ replacement tools could come from an unconventional source.

Transcript

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Astronauts could someday benefit from recycling human waste on long space trips. (American Chemical Society)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

DIY space plastic. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Astronauts on board long spaceflights won’t have the luxury of being squeamish. They’ll have to recycle just about everything – including their own waste. Now, scientists think astronauts could make their own plastic in space from recycled urine and the carbon dioxide they exhale. Clemson University engineer Mark Blenner says a type of yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica feeds off of the nitrogen in urine and CO2 to produce polyester. It could be harvested and formed into plastic replacement tools using 3D printers.   

MARK BLENNER (Clemson University):

There’ll be some need that arises – and so one of the ideas that NASA has is that 3D printing has the capability of allowing astronauts to fabricate things that they need.

HIRSHON:

Blenner says rest assured, the recycled waste will be sterilized before reuse. He presented the research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard