Yum! Silkworms Could Be the Next Astronaut Food

By Nina Bai | January 15, 2009 4:55 pm

silkwormsSpace travel isn’t exactly known for its culinary pleasures. But astronauts in the future may have a fresh alternative to freeze dried food: A team of Chinese scientists are proposing that silkworms—the mulberry-leaf-munching larvae of silkmoths—can be easily reared on long-term space flights and provide valuable protein (as in, meals) for astronauts.

On missions that may last several years, astronauts will need a sustainable, renewable source of animal protein. Researchers have considered everything from poultry to fish to sea urchin larvae. Chicken, they decided, would require too much room and food, and would generate too much excrement. Fish are too sensitive to water conditions—H20 being of such limited supply in space that astronauts drink recycled urine and sweat.

Silkworms, on the other hand, require minimal space, food, and water, and produce very little excrement. The critters are packed with protein and rich in amino acids (twice the amount in pork and four times the amount in milk and eggs). Even the silk that the pupae use to spin their cocoons can be chemically processed to become edible.

Insects appear regularly on menus in many parts of the world. But even the most veteran insectivore would find the portion prescribed by the researchers a little hard to swallow. The researchers estimate that each astronaut would have to consume 170 silkworms and cocoons per day to meet their animal protein needs, which just sounds like a horrible segment from Fear Factor. Besides, cooking options are limited on a space ship. Maybe they could fry the silkworms with cosmic rays?

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Just How Nasty is Space Food?
Discoblog: Thanksgiving Dinner in Space
Discoblog: Astronaut Taste Test: The Truth About Water From Recycled Urine and Sweat

Image: flickr / Vanity Press

  • Jumblepudding

    So would there be a supply of dormant eggs on board, or would they need to allow some to develop into moths and breed?

  • http://sleepys.com/Sealy-Posturepedic sealy

    Well its certainly a different idea, but one would hope that they could put some of that NASA money towards devising something a little less…gross

  • http://www.Bonsaikingdom.com Bonsai King

    Just grind it fine, put flavoring, and fry it……

  • Michael

    Actually, silkworm pupae has been eaten in East Asian countries for many years as a snack item. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste, but it’s quite edible and delicious if you season it right.

  • Madyarov Shukhrat

    The first space experiment with silkworm was performed in 1992 by Madyarov Sh. R. (Uzbekistan) on Russian satellite “BION_10):

    Madyarov Sh. R., Ilyin E.A., Janibekov V.A. The silkworm Bombyx mori L. on orbit in an Earth artificial satellite // Sericologia (France). – 1995. – №1 (35).- Р. 109-112.

  • Fried

    I heard silk worms taste like crab/shrimp. When fried…it tastes like fried seafood?

    yum

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