It might sound gross, but human waste may bring future astronauts back from the Moon, new research says, by converting it into methane to power NASA rockets.

On current NASA missions, fecal matter has been collected and stored in containers until it can be loaded onto special space cargo vehicles that burn up during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. While this works just fine for shorter missions, it presents a problem for more long-term trips, not to mention it's just impractical.

Dumping it on the Moon isn't an option, but NASA wanted to find a way to reduce the weight of spacecraft returning from the Moon to Earth, given that the space agency is planning to build an inhabited facility on the Moon's surface between 2019 and 2024. So they turned to scientists at the University of Florida (UF) for a solution.

"The idea was to see whether we could make enough fuel to launch rockets and not carry all the fuel and its weight from Earth for the return journey," UF researcher Pratap Pullammanappallil said in a statement. "Methane can be used to fuel the rockets. Enough methane can be produced to come back from the Moon."

Described in the journal Advances in Space Research, Pullammanappallil and his team used a process involving an anaerobic digester, which kills pathogens from human waste and produces biogas - a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide (CO2).

It could produce 290 liters of methane per crew per day, all produced in a week, according to researchers.

And this new poop-powered technique doesn't just generate heat and electricity for NASA rockets.

"It could be used on campus or around town, or anywhere, to convert waste into fuel," Pullammanappallil added.

Not to mention that the process also would produce about 200 gallons of non-potable water annually from all the waste, which can then be converted into breathable oxygen for astronauts on board rockets.

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