The Death Star's trash compactor may have been implausible, but it was on the right path towards solving a very real problem: space junk.
Scientists at NASA are testing ways to reduce space waste by compacting and heating debris to the point where it melts but doesn't incinerate, reducing garbage by 10 times its original size and squeezing out any salvageable water they can. Plus, the high level of plastic packaging in astro-garbage means that not only are these pucks easier to stow, they're also potentially effective against radiation—something that poses a big problem for manned missions to Mars, which could take at least two years roundtrip.
With just one day's worth of garbage, the on-board compactor can produce small, circular trash tiles 8 inches wide and half an inch thick, meaning they could be used to reinforce astronaut's sleeping quarters (among other heavily trafficked areas).
Scientist's are still determining whether the process sterilizes the discs by embedding strips test tiles with strips of bacterial spores before heating. So far, results have been promising. The potential emergence of any trash-dwelling, carnivorous giant squids, however, remains to be seen. [Space.com]