Meat from a Vat and Other Essential Supplies

Recently, a Russian shuttle intended to carry supplies to the International Space Station crashed moments after launch. While the space station has more than enough supplies right now, it’s easy to see how such an incident could cause major supply issues.

And that got us thinking…

In our Pandora Project series (book one, Escape Velocity, is due out in January from Carina Press), humans have colonized the moon in addition to building several artificial colony structures at Earth’s LaGrange Points…and they’re preparing for a mission that will send hundreds of people out in a spaceship for several years.

So we’ve had to think a lot about how to deal with essential supplies in space. Air, food, and water were our biggest concerns. Fortunately, we managed to combine the solutions to those issues. Being able to extrapolate from current technology without being tied to current technology makes it a lot easier for us than it is for the folks on the International Space Station.

Right now, space food is primarily canned or otherwise processed and preserved meals. One astronaut on the International Space Station has written about his culinary experiences. It didn’t sound feasible for an extended long-term trip including families. We took into account the emotional and mental strain that would be put on our travelers by being limited to such food…and decided to move toward as much fresh food as possible.

While we went with an adapted version of traditional farming for the lunar colony, we chose hydroponics for growing plants on the spaceship. Fortunately, that helped resolve one of our other issues in the process: air. Plants produce breathable air. Hooray!

But we couldn’t rely solely on plants for sustenance. We needed more sources of protein. For that, we turned to cultured meat. Vat-grown meat is actually a current technology, though we’re not quite at the point of it being commercially viable.

Of course, the hydroponics only made our need for water greater. For that, we turned to the technologies the space station is actually using. Not only do they use a water reclamation system to purify wastewater and urine, they also have a system to turn waste hydrogen and carbon dioxide into potable water and are working on a new system by which methane would be processed into water. How cool is that?

The idea that we’re breathing, eating, and drinking what used to be human waste is one we’re not very comfortable with. In the future, we’ll have to accept that what we’re consuming, bathing in, and even wearing is coming from materials processed through multiple bodies. It’ll be key to surviving without drowning in our effluence, not just technology for life in space.

Does the concept of that kind of “recycling” gross you out?  Or are you looking forward to a more efficient, waste-free future?

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7 comments

  1. Very interesting stuff, indeed! The concept of extreme water recycling has been tossed about in sci-fi for some time — Frank Herbert’s Dune did it first with the desert suits and the reprocessing of the dead, as far as I’m aware.

    Another concept worth consideration there–space travel of any length will inevitably result in the need to dispose of the dead. A touchy subject, but organic matter is organic matter…. =D

    1. The disposal of the dead is definitely a cultural marker worth addressing in any world building! The privilege of burying one’s dead is limited to certain areas, so it’s never been universal. I just finished reading a book that looked at, among other things, ritual cannibalism and societies that consumed their dead. On a closed system, organic matter would inevitably turn into food, unless compartmentalized somehow.

      I remember reading the Dune books for the first time. I’ve always been a compulsive reuser and recycler—part of growing up poor and hippie, I think. I really like books that pay attention to that aspect of a culture/civilization. I could read a whole book just on the daily lives and household tasks of an alien race. *g*

  2. Some of the reclamation ideas may seem a little disturbing to us at theis point, but I think folks would get used to the idea, especially if lives depended on it. As time went on, they would be SOP and no one would probably think twice about where their drinking water or protein came from.

    1. Survival is a great motivator, isn’t it? 🙂

  3. Dune also came to mind for me when you mentioned extreme water recycling. Fun post and it sounds like you had fun using current technology to create a future world. Toilet to tap water doesn’t gross me out as much as the Vat-grown meat. Not sure why, but Vat-grown sounds worse than Spam.

    1. The neat thing about cultured meat is that the goal is for it to actually come out as *meat*, indistinguishable from that which comes from animals. Not “meat-like protein” like I think we’re all imagining. That’s part of why the articles say that the process isn’t quite ready for commercial use. 🙂

      We’ve had a great time using expansions of current technology to create our future world. We’re both sci-fi lovers and we wanted our world to feel both internally consistent and *possible*.

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