NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) - 02.22.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Vermicomposting, or using worms to break down food scraps, is an effective way to reduce waste and obtain a nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants. The NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) investigation is a student-designed project that 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.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by Shanna Atzmiller, B.S., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: NanoRacks Module-56

Principal Investigator(s)
Bell Middle School , Bell Middle School, Golden, CO, United States

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
Shanna Atzmiller, B.S., Bell Middle School, Golden, CO, United States
Jesse Swift, M.S., Bell Middle School, Golden, CO, United States

Developer(s)
NanoRacks LLC, Webster, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory Education (NLE)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2015 - September 2015

Expeditions Assigned
43/44

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

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.

Description
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 NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) investigation has several goals.  The investigation measures the effectiveness of vermicomposting as a waste removal/reduction method on the International Space Station (ISS). The investigation aims to discover a working solution to the problem of waste in space.  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.
 
While running this experiment, evidence of vermicomposting successfully working on the ISS is expected, and data to demonstrate its level of effectiveness in a microgravity environment is collected. The hope is to show through the results that vermicomposting is a viable solution for waste removal/reduction that does not require much physical space. It is also hoped that the results demonstrate vermicomposting as a credible solution when planning sustainable communities on the ISS, Moon and Mars.
 
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.

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Applications

Space Applications
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 Applications
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.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

In an enclosed habitat with soil, bedding and compost, between 10 to 15 red wiggler worms are sent to the ISS for a 21-day test. Data is downloaded every week from NanoRacks to make observations of what is occurring in the habitat. Once the experiment is returned back to Earth, the students weigh and measure the length of each of the worms as well as conduct an internal investigation through dissection to see if the worms had composted while on the ISS.
 
The experiment arrives to the ISS in a +4°C cold stow bag. Once the experiment reaches the ISS, the crew members need to remove the experiment from the cold stow bag and plug the Module into the NanoRacks Platform. The experiment is autonomous and runs for 21 days for data collection purposes. Once the 21 day experiment has been run, the experiment needs to be unplugged from the NanoRacks Platform and placed into +4°C cold stow for the return trip to Earth.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites
Bell Middle School
NanoRacks

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Imagery

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The NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) testing chamber.  Image courtesy of Jesse Swift.

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Student-designed mission patch with art team (from left: Patrick B., Taylor W., Jonah W., and Amber C. for the NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) investigation. Image courtesy of Jesse Swift.

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Sub-system team leader meeting for the NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) investigation.  Image courtesy of Jesse Swift.

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Students presenting at critical design review (from left: Linus W., Ethan C., Geetali L., Angelee D., and Artie B for the NanoRacks-NDC-Bell Middle School-Efficiency of Vermicomposting in a Closed System (NanoRacks-NDC-BMS-Vermicomposting) investigation.  Image courtesy of Jesse Swift.

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