In the 2015 sci-fi film “The Martian,” Matt Damon stars as an astronaut who survives on a diet of potatoes cultivated in human feces while marooned on the Red Planet.
Now a New York company that makes carbon-negative aviation fuel is taking the menu for interplanetary cuisine in a very different direction. Its innovation has put it in the finals of a NASA-sponsored contest to encourage the development of next-generation technologies for meeting the food needs of astronauts.
Closely held Air Company of Brooklyn has pioneered a way of recycling carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts in flight to grow yeast-based nutrients for protein shakes designed to nourish crews on long-duration deep-space missions.
“It’s definitely more nutritious than Tang,” said company co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Stafford Sheehan, referring to the powdered beverage popularized in 1962 by John Glenn when he became the first American to orbit Earth.
Sheehan, who has a doctorate in physical chemistry from Yale University, said he originally developed his carbon-conversion technology as a means of producing high-purity alcohols for jet fuel, perfume, and vodka.
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