Education

Can astronauts’ poop turn into spaceship cleaner? NASA is paying Clemson to find out

A Clemson University professor received a grant from NASA to study turning human waste into hydrogen peroxide.
A Clemson University professor received a grant from NASA to study turning human waste into hydrogen peroxide. gmelendez@thestate.com

Have you ever thought about how astronauts keep their ships clean while traveling in space?

A professor at Clemson has, and his research has uncovered something very useful to create a cleaning solution — human waste.

Yes, Sudeep Popat is studying how astronauts can turn their poop into hydrogen peroxide on long-term space missions, Clemson said in a news release.

It might sound funny, but it’s no laughing matter. NASA has provided the professor with a $750,000 grant to fund his space-related research, according to the university.

Clemson said the process “isn’t as gross as it might sound.”

The assistant professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences’ work shows that hydrogen peroxide can be created from the waste, after it is fed to microbial fuel cells, according to the news release.

That hydrogen peroxide can “clean potentially infectious biofilms from surfaces inside spacecraft ... (and) to disinfect wastewater for reuse,” Clemson said.

Popat said the transformed poop also could potentially “produce a small amount of excess energy for other uses,” in the university’s statement.

Members of the University of South Carolina and Benedict College are collaborating with Popat on the research, according to the news release.

NASA is interested in the research, and similar projects that will help “astronauts use every last resource when they venture into the depths of space for months or even years,” Clemson said.

Aboard the International Space Station, Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA discussed how he and his crew-mates will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Kimbrough, who arrived on the station in October, is in the midst of a four-month

Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.
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