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Why NASA Banned Cabbage, Broccoli From Flight Menus

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Robert Krulwich over at NPR brings us a fascinating story today, involving food, flatus, and space travel.

Apparently, the USDA once had a "flatus researcher" named Edwin Murphy, who, at a 1964 Conference on Nutrition in Space and Related Waste Problems, "suggested that the ideal astronaut should be totally flatus-free."

The reason?

Krulwich explains:

"Methane, he warned, is flammable and so, to reduce the chance of sudden fires, he thought it best if NASA could find astronauts who emitted no methane at all. They could fart, but they shouldn't fart methane. In fact, he announced, he had discovered such people. They exist."

They may exist, but finding a flatus-free human who also meets the other standards necessary for acceptance into the space program presents a problem. NASA didn't bite, rather, the space agency responded by scrubbing broccoli, cabbage, beans, and sprouts from its flight menus.

Murphy, however, continued his important work. As Mary Roach writes in her book "Packing for Mars":

"Murphy reported on research he had done using an 'experimental bean meal' fed to volunteers who had been rigged, via a rectal catheter, to outgas into a measurement device. He was interested in individual differences —  not just in the overall volume of flatus, but in the differing percentages of constituent gases. Owing to differences in intestinal bacteria, half the population produces no methane. This makes them attractive as astronauts."

No methane is one thing--but, Murphy dropped a bombshell, reporting that, "Of special interest for further research was the subject who produced essentially no flatus on 100 grams dry weight of beans."


A person like this, Murphy insisted, would make the ideal astronaut from a safety standpoint.

You've really got to hand it to the guy for being so tenacious, given the fact that NASA seemed not to give a whit about his discoveries.

Alas, it seems that Edwin Murphy faded into obscurity, never having tasted the glory of helping to send flatus-free astronauts into space. Today, space travelers eat a full menu--including broccoli and the like.

As far as fire suppression techniques, NASA engineers found a way to allow astronauts their vegetables while keeping an eye out for safety:

It's called a fire extinguisher.
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