In an experiment designed at seeing whether or not a high-protein diet of its nature could be used in space travel (as opposed to a cruel elementary school dare), three Chinese astronauts recently emerged from 105 days in a sealed capsule where they ate only mealworms and plants. Consisting of two females and one male from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA), the team locked themselves in Moon Palace 1, a 160-square-meter self-contained laboratory located in Beijing.
Moon Palace 1 is what is known as a BLSS, or Bio-regenerative Life Support System: Liu Hong, professor at BUAA, refers to it as an “Earth-based experimental unit for a closed ecological system used for life support in a moon base.” So, in other words, it is a laboratory situated on Earth that is meant to simulate a laboratory situated on the Moon that is designed to simulate living conditions on Earth. Great, glad to know you’re still with us here.
Anyway, this self-contained laboratory grows its own laboratory plants, animals, and microorganisms. Meanwhile, such components necessary to sustain human life as oxygen, water and food get recycled and regenerated back into the system. Hong says it is “the most advanced closed loop life support technology yet developed, and one that can ensure the long-term survival of astronauts in outer space.”
But enough about Moon Palace 1 – more about the worms! SCMP reports that the researchers fattened up the worms (who can grow to the size of a finger in a matter of weeks) and other insects on plants grown inside the laboratory. They, um, also used “various sauces and spices to make the mealworm dishes more appetizing.” SCMP failed to report whether or not the astronauts first consulted Pan “Big Stomach King” Yizhong, the Chinese competitive eater who once devoured 40 bowls of noodles before chasing them down with a plate of mealworms.
Apparently the three astronauts seemed “healthy and happy” while on their strictly-worms diet, according to researcher Hu Dawei. After all, Hu mentioned, “the United Nations has recommended mealworms for starving people in poor areas such as Africa, so we thought ‘why can’t they be used by astronauts in space’?” Right! Why not?
“Worms might look disgusting at first glance,” Hu conceded, “but they are actually the cleanest and healthiest food source.”
Apart from the worms, the astronauts also ate 15 types of vegetables, 5 types of grain, and 1 type of fruit. Participant/astronaut Wang Minjuan admitted that, although she eventually got used to the diet, she also found herself craving “hotpot and roasted fish.”
For some strange reason, this proposal has been met with criticism in the West, where researchers say that the diet would lead to “lower morale in astronauts.” We’re taking a wild guess here, but the lower morale might have something to do with how much it would suck to eat nothing but wiggly worms for hundreds of days. Although, in Hu’s defense, none of us have actually tried doing that yet.
China’s space program has been making astronomical (sorry) progress in recent years, with China in 2003 becoming the third country to send a human into space after the U.S. and Russia. Late last year, China’s “Yutu” moon rover made successful contact before experiencing technical malfunctions that were followed by somber messages that would later receive a dramatic re-enactment by Patrick Stewart. Apparently, China has made plans to launch a space station on the moon by 2023, as well as launch tourists into orbit by 2014. Here’s to hoping that said flights to the Moon will serve something other than literal dirt cups with literal worms.
By Alex Stevens