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Future Astronauts May Survive On Eating Silkworms 384

sciencehabit writes "Science reports that silkworms may be an ideal food source for future space missions. They breed quickly, require little space and water, and generate smaller amounts of excrement than poultry or fish. They also contain twice as many essential amino acids as pork does and four times as much as eggs and milk. Even the insect's inedible silk, which makes up 50% of the weight of the dry cocoon, could provide nutrients: The material can be rendered edible through chemical processing and can be mixed with fruit juice, sugar, and food coloring to produce jam."
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Future Astronauts May Survive On Eating Silkworms

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  • Food for thought (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jerep ( 794296 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:03PM (#26449621)

    Now we just have to solve this space radiation issue and how to shield astronauts from it.

  • Re:Cutlery! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:08PM (#26449711)

    Ah the Spork. With spokes to short to grab anything, however their unique shape prevents it from pickup liquid well either.

  • Food Coloring? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fractalVisionz ( 989785 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:18PM (#26449921) Homepage

    The material can be rendered edible through chemical processing and can be mixed with fruit juice, sugar, and food coloring to produce jam.

    Do we really need to waste precious cargo space and weight to bring up food coloring? I suppose astronauts might want green or purple catchup too.

  • by db32 ( 862117 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#26449939) Journal
    I dunno...young kids think pee drinking and worm eating is funny and often do strange things of that nature. What killed it for me was "Oh wow, Astronaut Ice Cream!" *munch* *munch* "This is disgusting semiflavored chalk! To hell with this nonsense."

    It doesn't help that the previous generation had Apollo 11 and that "one small step" thing as a huge success. Then they had Apollo 13 and "Houston we've had a problem" that while missing the moon turned into a huge survival story success. My generation has had the Challenger and Columbia *kaboom* everyone dead stories. Now...building the Mir space station was a big story when I was a little kid. I remember our science teacher had us save our little milk carton things from lunch until we could build a huge one to hang up. Of course that one ended in a publicity stunt with Taco Bell promising free tacos if Mir hit some giant floating target in the ocean.

    The previous generation got all the really cool and amazing space stories. My generation has gotten a few monumental failures, some publicity stunts, and space robots (which are pretty cool, but not a whole lot of that man to the moon excitement stuff).
  • by compro01 ( 777531 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#26449949)

    In space, yes. Outside the earth's magnetosphere, no. Even out on the moon, the magnetosphere still protects them from much of the nastiness (solar wind, cosmic rays, etc.), but if we're gonna go to Mars or wherever, we'll need to bring our own protection.

  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:21PM (#26449989)
    Cause, you can't really have a first man to walk on the bottom of the ocean, I mean, pretty much any beach goer does that. Whereas you can have a first man to walk on the Moon/Mars/an asteroid. My point is, regardless of the scientific interest, space is just more sensational. The depths of the ocean are just creepy.
  • by nasor ( 690345 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:22PM (#26450007)
    The big issue with space missions in mass. Silk worms aren't going to magically create silk worm meat (or whatever you call it) from nothing - for ever 1 kg of silk worm that you grow to eat, you will have to bring along at least 1 kg of silkworm food. So why not just bring human-edible food instead of silk worm food?
  • or go vegetarian? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:25PM (#26450065)

    Given that it costs more to raise an animal on vegetable feed than you gain by eating it, why not just eat the food that they're feeding the silkworms ?

  • Re:gross (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nickdwaters ( 1452675 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:29PM (#26450159)
    Space travel is extreme backpacking! If you've ever backpacked, you don't think twice about eating food you wouldn't normally eat at home. There are various gateway foods you can eat, such as sushi and in particular uni (sea urchin shit...nasty), which will make the consumption of silk worms seem like dessert. Hunger is a powerful motivator.
  • by djsmiley ( 752149 ) <> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:36PM (#26450261) Homepage Journal

    Living in the ocean wont save us from the earth being consumed by nuclear waste / aliens / zombies / etc

    Also, the ocean is already inhabited.

  • by w1d3 ( 1118983 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @12:49PM (#26450607)

    because jam tastes much better when it's colored!

  • by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:09PM (#26451027)

    Citation needed. An unbalanced diet can require supplements, but a vegan diet can be balanced, at least according to the NIH, although it's harder than a non-vegan diet.

    Citation: In space, there is a bit less biodiversity than on Earth. It wouldn't be a stretch to assume that it might be a bit difficult for astronauts to maintain a balanced diet if vegans here on Earth are having trouble doing so.

  • Re:gross (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CyberLord Seven ( 525173 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:10PM (#26451061)
    Mod this guy up.

    People around the world eat some strange shit. Snails, dog, pork guts (chitterlings), carob-coated insects, fish eggs, and probably some nasty shit I've never heard of. Some of this stuff might be considered a delicacy tody, but I am sure it all started due to hunger.

    Have you ever looked at a cow? What made some poor bastard decide to milk that huge, stinking thing? Yep. Hunger!

    I watched a documentary a few years back that showed a guy driving a stick into the side of a cow. A stream of blood mixed with something else poured out of the animal and was collected and ...gagh... drunk.

  • by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:18PM (#26451243)

    I'm gonna have to request a source for that. I've heard no such thing, all I've heard speculation that the actual physical mechanics of it, what with two weightless bodies and all, would be pretty daunting.

    Plus, I bet it's more the fact that astronauts are in extremely cramped conditions in a decidedly non-sexual situation.
    "It's the z-gravity baby, I swear!"

  • by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:39PM (#26451755)

    We also have to deal with the inevitable PETA protests.

  • by Gerzel ( 240421 ) * <brollyferret@gEI ... minus physicist> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @01:51PM (#26452015) Journal

    Who needs an erection to have sex?
    You must think that a tongue is for talkin.

  • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:21PM (#26452527)

    Gross is indeed relative. Somewhere in the world somebody is going to be freaked out what you consider lovely and normal and natural.

    A girl I knew quite put me off eggs for a while after describing them as "chickens' periods" and somebody else said they found cheese a bit hard to eat when you consider it as congealed, old, mouldy animal milk. As for what goes into sausages and burgers and meat paste?

    As for meat, a friend of mine worked in a factory and told me about the machines they used and how they really get every last bit of animal product off a carcass and out of the skulls...

  • by rudeboy1 ( 516023 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:30PM (#26452699)

    What you're not getting, is that they're concerned with finding a food source that can be replicated while en route to Mars. Say the Mars crew was 5 people strong. 3 years is 1095 days. For 5 people to eat 3 square meals a day, that's 5475 servings of food. Scratch that, not servings, but complete meals, which generally represent at least a couple servings of various food groups. The concern is that A.)You're packing a ton of extra weight that has to break Earth's gravity, and then adding in additional fuel to compensate, which then makes the craft even heavier. B.) That much food, even in compact forms like tuna cans and beef jerky, is still going to take a massive area just for storage. Again, extra weight added to craft for additional spacecraft real estate. C.)Survivability. Most of the foods you listed will not keep at room temperature for 3 years. Tuna, perhaps, but jerky, bagels, etc. Won't make it even close to that. You can freeze it, but this will also require extra gear, energy and materials to accomplish.

    Now, if you were to introduce a renewable food source like the silk worm, most of those problems are reduced considerably. You leave orbit with only a seed population, and since their bodies, much like ours, are comprised mostly of water, it is not a straight equation of 1LB of worm food begets 1LB of worms. They eat leaves, which could theoretically also be grown using a minimum of resources, which only require light (free), water (recyclable) and soil (recyclable). Therefore you are netting a gain in food that is more than what you leave with from Earth.

    I'm sure they will probably pack some regular food too, but likely more as an appeasement to keep the astronauts sane. It will be spaced out sparingly over a long ride, and is essentially a luxury. I view it a lot like the food situation in Firefly, where most of their diet is comprised from nondescript protein bars. If you didn't see the behind the scenes of them making those protein bars, I think you'd be looking at a very similar set of circumstances. Once the worms have been harvested, they can be processed any number of ways, including being refined and compacted into their most efficient form (bars). Then you add in a box of strawberries every now and then just to keep from going all bibbledy.

  • by powerlord ( 28156 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:25PM (#26453653) Journal

    My generation has had the Challenger and Columbia *kaboom* everyone dead stories.

    I dunno. I guess it depends how old you are.

    I remember missing a week of school with the chicken pox the first time the Columbia flew, and how exciting it was.

    I also remember my father surprising me with a trip down to Florida to watch the space shuttle take off.

    We drove back and forth to the cape every morning before sunrise to get our pass and get bussed from the main gate out to the viewing peninsula.

    Ended up being the Challenger's last mission. :(

    That was pretty inspiring in and of itself, for a lot of reasons.

    Only later did I think about having missed out on Apollo and Skylab, but I remember Mir popping up quite a bit.

    All things considered, if you gave me the opportunity to travel into space with a 50/50 chance of not making it back, I'd probably still take it.

  • Re:gross (Score:3, Insightful)

    by grassy_knoll ( 412409 ) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:31PM (#26455831) Homepage

    Sea urchins are not cute.

    Therefore, no outcry.

  • by YttriumOxide ( 837412 ) <yttriumox@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday January 15, 2009 @02:06AM (#26462157) Homepage Journal

    Just in case you were unaware, Kangaroo is relatively commonly eaten in the great southern land of Oz. It's considered a generally "low quality" meat though, and is also used as pet food. Although, you can get kangaroo steaks and burgers intended for human consumption in most supermarkets or on the menus of some eateries, especially at tourist locations.

    Koalas on the other hand are legally protected.

    As a note, Australia is the only country in the world that eats both the animals displayed on its coat of arms (Kangaroo and Emu). I'm not sure the British could, even if they wanted, since they have a Lion and a Unicorn, and most Americans would probably be a little averse to the idea of Eagle for dinner.

    I think the silkworms probably do make more sense than trying to get a bunch of roos on a space vessel (I'm loving the imagery of that though)

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