When I think of self-contained environments, I can’t help but think of Bio-Dome. It’s a failing, and I understand that, but my mind makes associations that way. So imagine my Confucian (pun intended) when the Chinese announced last May that three intrepid volunteers had endured 105 days in Lunar PALACE (Permanent Astrobase Life-support Artificial Closed Ecosystem).
Of course I thought, “Cool! Chinese Pauly Shore probably had a blast.”
In the real world, three Chinese volunteers lived, breathed, ate, and slept in an environment meant to simulate encapsulated life on the moon. You can see pictures of the volunteers and the Lunar PALACE environment in this China Daily post. They are doing this because most of us don’t want to, but also because it needs to be done. And I do really believe most of us in the US really wouldn’t want to do this, if only because of the one main staple the Chinese volunteers ate every day: mealworms.
According to this New Scientist post, the volunteers tried everything they could, such as different spices and ways to cook them, to make the mealworms tastier. Let’s see–stir fried mealworm with curry. Microwaved mealworm with salt. Boiled mealworm with steak sauce. Fried and battered mealworm with dijon mustard dip. Not just one mealworm, but dozens of them, daily, according to this South China Morning Post article. Maybe I’m the loner here, but none of these sound very good. The wriggling of the little buggers alone, as I tried to savor them in my mouth, would likely induce dry heaves (because if I were there, I’d be starving).
Also, mealworms almost seem like an engineer’s solution, and New Scientist does quote a NASA astronaut who says “Meat is meat.” Fine–you eat that Mr. Story Musgrave. I’d prefer a meal with a little less insect. Is this a first world attitude? You bet! Not sorry about this particular dietary quirk at all.
The Lunar PALACE is a little over 1700 square feet big. But the picture on Space.com makes it look like at least have of the unit is taken over by a server farm (but I think it’s actually a different farm–one for plants). The crew grew and harvested vegetables, grains, and fruits in the human habitat. After 105 days of staying in Lunar PALACE, the volunteers came out, looking healthy, and China learned a few things about living in an artificial environment.
The next step for the team working on the Lunar PALACE project is to add one more unit to the PALACE. That way they can fit four volunteers for a possibly longer duration inside.
There are probably some people getting ready to volunteer for that. I understand they’re waiting with “baited” breath.