Thailand ready to feed NASA astronauts with insect larvae
A team of scientists from Thailand, the only Asian research team taking part in a NASA competition to develop food for long-term manned spaceflight, has announced it is ready to feed astronauts edible “sago worms,” which are eaten in southern Thailand and neighboring countries, the Bangkok Post’s online version reported Wednesday.
“Sago worms are the extremely protein- and fat-rich larvae of the red palm longhorn beetle, an agricultural pest of banana, palm and sugar cane plantations, the paper explains. The female beetle usually lays its larvae in pre-chewed passages inside the trunks of palm trees or “tubes” of sugar cane.
Scientists from the Princess Chulaphone Royal Academy of Medicine and Biology, the country’s oldest Chulalongkorn University, Walai Alongkorn University of Education and several private companies working as a team were the only group of researchers from Asia to reach the second round of an international competition to select foods for astronauts who will go on missions to other planets in the solar system and into deep space. The competition is organized by the U.S. aerospace agency in cooperation with Canada’s national space administration and the Methuselah Foundation, which aims to extend human life.
The red weevil larvae, which have been consumed in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years, have another advantage over other sources of protein and fat that astronauts can eat in flight, aside from being nutritious: they are easy to breed and grow in confined spaces of limited space. Once started, the larvae reproduce in enough volume to produce enough food for humans without needing to be “replenished” from outside (from Earth) for three years, the newspaper reported, citing scientists at Thailand’s Advanced Astronaut Onboard Food Research Group, who consider the tropical insect larvae “an ideal food for humans in space,” the Bangkok Post reported.
The Thai scientists believe they will be ready for a comprehensive review of their findings by NASA specialists early next year, after which they could enter the third phase of the competition, according to the report.