Poop-a-Palooza!

Everybody poops. Just some do it with more class than others.
Everybody poops. Just some do it with more class than others.
Because I have the Internet I can search and find things that would, otherwise, elude me. This can be a mixed blessing. For example, I was recently doing some research on the Wizard of Oz. And if you click that link you’ll be bombarded with Oz trivia. But as I happily clicked link after link I suddenly found myself on a midget porn site. Click on that at your own risk. Truly the miracle of Rule 34 in action. If you don’t believe that almost any subject has a related porn site just Google NASA porn and prepare to be aroused and or shocked, depending on your tastes. Anyway, the more salient point is that I use the Internet for research. As such I find that I have to slog through reams of stupid shit to get to what I want. Which is why, in a moment of frustration I Googled for “stupid shit” and ended up completely fascinated by what I’d found.

I’m odd like that.

Anyway, let’ start with that tired Internet terror alert that all beards contain more poop than a toilet. I’ll let Aahmna Modin, from IFL Science, patiently explain why you’re an idiot if you believed that.

Contrary to what you have seen in the media, beards do not harbor more poo than a toilet. The story, which originated from the TV news network ‘KOAT’ in New Mexico, has gone viral even though it has little scientific merit.

As Nick Evershed from the Guardian points out, the story wasn’t based on a scientific study. The investigation instead consisted of a reporter taking swabs of a small number of men’s beards and then sending those samples to a microbiologist to analyze. The microbiologist John Golobic identified ‘enteric’ bacteria, which normally reside in the intestines. He told the presenter that these bacteria are usually found in feces, but bacteria associated with feces is not necessarily feces—an important distinction that many people seem to have ignored.

Enteric bacteria are in the family Enterobacteriaceae and are often harmless, though some can cause disease. You, however, do not need to worry about these bacteria because they are everywhere. Phillip M. Tierno, a microbiologist at New York University, told New York Magazine that “we, as a society, are literally bathed in feces.” From the keyboard on your desk to the bag you carry around, fecal bacteria can be found in a number of places and they are not a cause for concern.

I saw the orignal story when it first came around and laughed at it. Just a quick memo to KOAT, and any other ratings desperate media outlet, if you’re going to site science please make sure to run it past someone who actually knows what science is. And how it works. And … you know what, just avoid the science stuff all together. It’s safer that way.

So you don’t have a fuzzy poop broom hanging off your chin. And I can see that you’re disappointed. After all, Fuzzy Poop Broom would be a great name for a Mumford and Sons tribute band.

But what if I told you that, while you need not comb it out of your beard, you can actually make good money with your poop? Feel better now?

Lisa Winter has the whole story.

Everybody poops. That’s not just the name of a popular potty training book, but it’s an essential fact of life. However, most people merely flush it away without a second thought. In the spirit of one man’s trash being another man’s treasure, the non-profit company OpenBiome is actually paying for stool samples in order to create lifesaving fecal transplant treatments for those infected with Clostridium difficile, a bacteria which is highly resistant to antibiotics.

Infections of C. difficile result in severe diarrhea, hospitalizing 250,000 Americans each year and causing about 14,000 deaths. It can actually come about after using antibiotics for too long, which ties into what makes it exceptionally difficult to treat. The patient’s gut microbiota is nearly wiped out, and conventional probiotics are not sufficient to replace them.

The best treatment for C. difficile infections is a fecal transplant, and yes, it has traditionally been as horrible as it sounds. Doctors have relied on highly invasive nasogastric tubes (NG tubes) or colonoscopies to put donor fecal matter into the gut of their infected patients. As difficult as the process may be, it is highly successful. A new method uses capsules of frozen fecal matter, which thaw out in the body and release the contents in the small intestines. The success rates of the capsules is comparable to traditional treatments, around 90 percent.

These frozen fecal capsules are OpenBiome’s wheelhouse, as they collect and screen stool samples, and turn them into the ready-to-administer treatments for hospitals. Of course, the feces needs to be sourced from somewhere. OpenBiome pays donors who are committed to providing multiple samples per week.

Though everybody may do it, not everyone is an ideal candidate to get paid to do it. First and foremost, OpenBiome needs donors to be near their lab in Medford, Massachusetts to join the registry to donate. Candidates who meet the requirements for age, BMI, and health pre-screening questions are then invited to get blood and stool testing. Donations are then made at least four times per week for 60 days, when each donor is re-evaluated. Once the next round of blood and stool tests come back clear, the previous samples are then converted into capsules and sent to patients across the country.

The going rate is $40 per donation, with a $50 kicker for those who come five days a week. This translates into $250 per week, or $13,000 per year. OpenBiome tries to make the experience as fun as they can by offering prizes to donors who make the most donations, provide the biggest sample, etc. However, there’s no word on if OpenBiome offers a fun sticker to show off your donation to friends and family, such as the “Be nice to me, I gave blood today” badge handed out by the Red Cross.

If you meet the qualifications you can contact OpenBiome by just clicking their name.

“But Bill,” you say pleadingly, “what if I can’t sell my poop? How do I use my poop for the betterment of humanity?”

I’m glad you asked.

Become an astronaut. Or at least learn the skills needed to be wanted by NASA. It’s actually quite a long list. Anything from medical doctor to computer expert to astrophysicist will get you a look see. Just stay in school, get good grades, and you can be one of the lucky people who gets to power a space ship with their poop.

No, I am not insane.

Brian McConnell from i09 says that you too can be a super pooper.

If we’re going to venture out into the Solar System and beyond, we’re going to need versatile and reliable spaceships. One possible solution comes in the form of “spacecoaches” — reusable vessels that are self-sufficient and capable of carrying explorers to virtually any destination. Here’s how they’ll work.

Imagine the kind of spaceship we’ll need as we begin to expand the human presence into the nearby Solar System. We’d like something completely reusable, a vessel able to carry people in relative comfort everywhere from Mars to Venus, and perhaps as far out as the asteroid belt, where tempting Ceres awaits. Capable of refueling using in situ resources, these are ships not crafted for a single, specific mission but able to operate on demand without entering a planetary atmosphere. Brian McConnell, working with Centauri Dreams regular Alex Tolley, has been thinking about just such a ship for some time now. A software/electrical engineer, pilot and technology entrepreneur based in San Francisco, Brian here explains the concept he and Alex have come up with, one that Alex treated in a previous entry in these pages. The advantages of their ‘spacecoach’ are legion and Brian also offers a sound way to begin testing the concept.Paul Gilster, Editor, Centauri Dreams

“What if a spacecraft, like a cell, was made mostly of water?”

That’s what Alexander Tolley and I asked when we were working on our paper for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, “A Reference Design For A Simple, Durable and Refuelable Interplanetary Spacecraft”. The paper explored the idea of a crewed spacecraft that used water as propellant in combination with solar electric propulsion. We dubbed them spacecoaches, as a nod to the stagecoaches of the Old West. Alex also gave the concept an excellent fictional treatment in Spaceward Ho!, also published on Centauri Dreams. We are currently finishing a book about spacecoaches, to be published by Springer this fall.

The idea of crewed solar electric spacecraft is hardly new. In 1954, Ernst Stuhlinger proposed a “sun-ship” powered by solar steam turbines and cesium ion drives. Since then solar electric propulsion has been used in a wide variety of uncrewed craft. Meanwhile, the convergence of several technologies will make crewed solar electric vehicles feasible in the near future.

A Spaceship That is Mostly Water

The core idea behind the spacecoach architecture is the use of water, and potentially waste streams, as propellant in electric engines. Water, life support and consumables are critical elements in a long duration mission, and in a conventional ship, are dead weight that must be pushed around by propellant that cannot be used for other purposes. Water in a spacecoach, on the other hand, can be used for many things before it is reclaimed and sent to the engines, and it can be treated as working mass. This, combined with the increased propellant efficiency of electric engines, leads to a virtuous cycle that results in dramatic cost reductions compared to conventional ships while increasing mission capabilities. Cost reductions of one or two orders of magnitude, which would make travel to destinations throughout the inner solar system routine, are possible with this approach.

Water is, for example, an excellent radiation shielding material, comparable to lead on a per kilogram basis, except you can’t drink lead. It is an excellent thermal battery, and can simply be circulated in reservoirs wrapped around the ship to balance hot and cold zones (this same reservoir doubles as the radiation shield). When frozen into fibrous material to form pykrete, it forms a material as tough as concrete, which can potentially be used for debris shielding or for momentum wheels, and if positioned correctly, can double as a supplemental radiation shield. If mixed with dilute hydrogen peroxide, which is safely stored at low concentrations, oxygen can be generated by passing it through a catalyst, similar to a contact lens cleaner. Dilute H2O2 is also a potent disinfectant, and can also be used to process human waste, as is done in terrestrial wastewater treatment plants. Anything the crew eats or drinks can be counted as propellant, as the water can be reclaimed and used for propulsion. This greatly simplifies planning for long missions because the longer the mission is, the more propellant you have in the form of consumables. This will also provide excellent safety margins and enable crews to survive an Apollo 13 scenario in deep space.

A spaceship that is mostly water will be more like a cell than a conventional rocket plus capsule architecture. Space agriculture, or even aquaculture, becomes practical when water is abundant. Creature comforts that would be unthinkable in a conventional ship (hot baths anyone?) will be feasible in a spacecoach. Meanwhile, inflatable structures will eventually enable the construction of large, complex habitats that will be more like miniature O’Neill colonies than a conventional spaceship.

“Okay, cool,” you’re saying, “but what does a space ship made of water have to do with my poop?”

Quite a bit actually.

As noted, tastefully, above, “Anything the crew eats or drinks can be counted as propellant, as the water can be reclaimed and used for propulsion.” Simply put, your output becomes input for the engines and for the shielding.

That’s right, NASA can, as of today, build an Inter-Solar Poop Ship.

And you thought science wasn’t cool.

Le Sexoflex – Poop On Face from Le Sexoflex on Vimeo.

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