Space 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?
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