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The Bell Middle School Vermicomposting investigation studies whether red wiggler worms, a species of earthworm, are able to produce compost in space. Results are used to study the potential for composting as a form of recycling on future long-duration space missions.

Customer: Bell Middle School
Research: Vermicomposting
NanoRacks Facility: Internal NanoLab
Mission Duration: 03/2015 – 09/2015
Mission Status: Complete
More Info: From NASA website

Research Overview

  • Vermicomposting is an efficient means of breaking down waste and producing nutrient-rich soil. Recycling is critical for space missions and vermicomposting could be an option for future space missions.
  • Students worked together to design an experiment that tests how red wiggler worms compost in a microgravity environment. While on the International Space Station (ISS), data is collected and sent to the students as a downlink from NanoRacks in order for data analysis to occur here on Earth. This data helps to understand how the red wiggler worms composted in the microgravity environment and how it can impact the future of space exploration.
  • The impact of this research might be the development of an effective means of vermicomposting in space. Primarily, however, the impact is the encouragement of future space explorers and to spark interest in future STEM careers.

Since waste is produced on Earth and in space, a system of removal (vermicomposting) is required so that waste can be processed without using up the valuable resource of physical space. Waste disposal already is a challenge on Earth and in space environments. Vermicomposting is a natural way to efficiently process waste and frees up room in space environments.

The investigation identifies the positive and/or negative effects on vermicomposting related to the microgravity environment and compares the effects to vermicomposting with the ground control environment. The investigations aims to create a successful vermicomposting pile in the Module in order to assess the rate of decomposition through measurement of temperature and moisture in the closed system. NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting exposes students to the National Design Challenge in order to teach them programming, data management and collaborative work.

Hardware used for this experiment includes a 1.5 U Module provided by NanoRacks with a NESI+ board microcontroller provided by Texas A&M University. The Module includes the following sensors connected to the NESI+ board: camera sensor for observational data, temperature sensor for temperature data, and moisture resistance sensor for moisture control data.

Missions to Mars, asteroids and other distant destinations require space travelers to produce their own food using minimal waste. They may be able to recycle food scraps and other waste using red wiggler worms, which would produce a high-quality fertilizer that can be used on crops. This investigation studies whether one common species of worms can effectively compost waste in space.

Earth has finite supplies of land and nutrients on which to grow crops; this investigation could lead to effective vermicomposting and agriculture in space. The investigation’s primary goal is the education and inspiration of students who will become the next generation of space explorers. Eighth-grade students designed and built the experiments in this investigation, developing a connection to the space program and sparking new interest in future science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

Read more about Bell School here.

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