50 years ago, NASA whipped up astronaut waste into rocket fuel | Science News


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50 Years Ago

50 years ago, NASA whipped up astronaut waste into rocket fuel

Excerpt from the September 2, 1967 issue of Science News

9:00am, August 24, 2017

BOLDLY GO  Researchers have been trying to turn astronaut poop into rocket fuel for 50 years. They’re still trying.

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Waste makes haste

Getting rid of bodily wastes during long space flights is a problem…. A bizarre possible solution … involves whipping the wastes in with some other ingredients to produce the most unusual rocket fuel…. The four ingredients — carbon, ammonium, nitrate and aluminum — and the waste material are just blended together, and they’re ready to go…. [The material] would probably be used to help a spacecraft change position or to nudge a long-life space station occasionally to keep it up in orbit. –Science News, September 2, 1967


Researchers are still trying to figure out how to turn astronaut excrement into something useful. Another process proposed in 2014 would use microbes to convert the waste and other organic material into fuel. But waste might have other uses that would be especially helpful during long-term flights. Synthetic biologists at Clemson University in South Carolina are working with NASA to use algae and genetically modified yeast to turn astronaut urine into 3-D printable plastics and nutritional omega-3 fats.


J. Eberhart. Waste makes haste. Science News. Vol. 92, September 2, 1967, p. 236.

R. Bridgforth, C. Good and G. Sutherland. Rocket propellant composition including human body generated waste materials. Rocket Research Corp, assignee. Patent US3773574 A. November 20, 1973.

A.S. Dohble and P.C. Pullammanappallil. Design and operation of an anaerobic digester for waste management and fuel generation during long term lunar mission. Advances in Space Research. Vol. 54, October 15, 2014, p. 1502. doi: 10.1016/j.asr.2014.06.029.

M. Blenner. Synthetic biology for recycling human waste into nutraceuticals and materials: closing the loop for long-term space travel. NASA. Published online August 27, 2015.

Further Reading

A. Witze. Pooping pandas may make better biofuels. Science News. Vol. 180, September 24, 2011, p. 17.  

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