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November 21, 2008

Make fun of this story and urine trouble

Posted: 09:40 AM ET

Okay, that headline is the only joke in this post about turning astronaut waste into drinking water.

The newly-delivered Water Recovery System uses filters and chemicals to purify astronauts’ perspiration, urine, and station waste water into drinkable H20. NASA photo

So please get the "yuck" factor out of your system and read on.

Among tons of equipment that the space shuttle Endeavour hauled to the International Space Station (ISS) is a new water-purification system that recycles everything - humidity, condensation, sweat and yes, even urine - into purified drinking water.

(CNN's intrepid space correspondent Miles O'Brien sampled an earth version of the H20 during his coverage of Endeavour's launch on Friday. Other than a hint of an iodine aftertaste.... he pronounced it OK.  Miles did several live shots on CNN TV, and eventually finished the bottle.)

The WRS, or water recovery system, includes two refrigerator-sized racks packed with a distiller and filters.

"We use some traditional technology, such as filtration systems, but some of the technology is unique to our operation, like working without gravity," said Bob Bagdigian of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. He's the project manager for NASA's Environmental Control Life Support System (ECLSS).

Each crew member on the ISS uses just under a gallon of water a day. Water is needed for drinking, brushing teeth, flushing toilets, showering, and washing hands, clothes and dishes. About two thirds of that water now comes from Russian Progress resupply vehicles, the European Space Agency's Jules Verne automatic transfer vehicle, and NASA space shuttles. The remaining third comes from a small water processor on the Russian side of the station. That system captures sweat, and other water vapor in the air as it passes through the air-conditioning system, filtering it and turning it into drinkable water.

With the planned doubling of the station crew from three to six, there's a need to look for more efficiency in handling supplies - especially water, that is plenty heavy and therefore plenty expensive to bring up from the ground.

Any long-term outpost on the moon or Mars will have no choice but to recycle liquids. So it made sense that an early version of such a system be tested on the space station. If this system works as planned, it should cut the need for water delivery by 65 percent, producing 6,000 pounds of potable water each year.

The environmental team at Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama, does more than just water purification. These microbiologists, chemists, materials, chemical, mechanical, and software engineers are part plumbers, part HVAC workers and part environmental police for the space station crew. Their systems do everything from providing oxygen and potable water to removing carbon dioxide from the cabin air and maintaining cabin temperature and humidity levels.

So how sure will the station residents be that the water is fit for human consumption?

They won't drink a drop until several samples have been flown back to Earth and are tested and re-tested.

The purification technology design also has provided assistance on Earth. Similar equipment has been used in aid centers after earthquakes in Iraq and Pakistan, said Bagdigian.

Does Bagdigian, trained as a biologist and chemical engineer, ever get tired of the bathroom humor?

He laughed. Non-scientists, especially kids, can identify with such a basic human function, he said.

"Everybody is interested in living in space and how that is going to become a reality."

–Marsha Walton, Producer, CNN Science and Technology

Filed under: environment • NASA • Space

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Franko   November 21st, 2008 11:59 am ET

On Spaceship Earth, the " please get the “yuck” factor" not applies
Religiously, drink the atom that Jesus Christ passed
Perhaps, one by a pet Warewolf of Dracula

Elementary particles, quantum hoppimg in and out of ,
Distilled by, Horrible or Nirvana dimensions ?

Jesus   November 21st, 2008 2:48 pm ET

I passed many things, not just an atom.

The Snake   November 21st, 2008 4:22 pm ET

I may have passed on atom, but I never could have passed on Eve!

CNN and Science « MsCruz’s Blog   November 23rd, 2008 8:54 pm ET

[...] [...]

Franko   November 24th, 2008 1:02 am ET

The language understood by animals is smell.
Watch a dog, not only listen with his ears,
But also smell for the territory markers of others.

Then, assertively, mark the fire hydrant, for all noses.
Space is now marked as US territory. Aliens watch out !

Eric Roberts   November 24th, 2008 11:00 am ET

This is yet another example of science fiction becoming science reality. Frank Herbet's "Dune" had this in the still suits that the characters wore out in the desert on the planet Dune. The suits recycled sweat, urine and other moisture so that the person would not dehydrate while out in the desert. Cool stuff!

An aside on that, people in survival situations survived by drinking urine. While it does contain a number of toxic elements that we are removing from our bodies that would actually poison us over an extented period of consumption, I guess it is better than dehydrating. Urine, unless you have a bladder infection, is actually sterile. It's well documented that in WWI, medics would use urine to wash wounds when they lacked water to prevent infection and to debrid the wound. Sounds gross, but I guess it beats gangrene 😀

GOD   November 24th, 2008 3:54 pm ET

I like Urine

Charles Jones   November 25th, 2008 3:19 am ET

Nice to have some water but can it make sparkling water (Seltzer) for mixed drinks? Imagine having to have that water to make a Aunt Jemima Pancake, water based chocolate milk, hot cocoa, and Kool Aide, but carnation Evaporated Milk in a can needs water unless you can handle the strong thickness, esp. the cooking version in the red can, but I like Tang too and Lemonade using reconstituted Lemons. I might would drink the ordinary water but I saw a urine battery that would have been a better component in the Space Station and the packs could have been recyclable aluminum packaged which would serve as flash light batteries or calculator batteries or a itch inhibitor for that special spot getter when it starts to nag you and that may take a few battery packs to change off, fits snuggly in a pocket and attaches a patch to the skin which vibrates.

Dennis Louis Richfield Mn   November 28th, 2008 6:27 pm ET

Remember with water recycling system we just rent the coffee and beer.

Franko   November 30th, 2008 4:00 am ET

"I like Urine"

God hit the nail of reality on the liquid Indian Guru medicine
Will have to look more into this.
I have heard, a sick person - doctor advised to limit water intake
This would increase retained solubles - for what purpose ?.

Franko   December 4th, 2008 2:28 am ET

Mr. Britt
"peeing feels good"
Do not do it against the wind - it will cause a catastropee
If all humanity did it, climate would be low altitude, extra humid
Yellow Sea, not only near China, but fertilzing greening the Earth

Mr. Britt   December 8th, 2008 8:22 pm ET

franko-– that was a wonderful explanation but peeing is the wind is great if u live above the mason dixon line.

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