NASA to turn space waste into clean drinking water
Once the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which launched Friday, delivers the new unit - 'Water Recovery System' (WRS) - for installation on the space station, astronauts will soon be able to drink their own recycled urine and sweat! . Until now, urine has been dumped overboard, but WRS will ensure it does not go to waste - a system that could be critical to future human space travel.
The system will use a distillation process that compensates for the absence of gravity, to remove impurities from urine. Then the water will be combined with fluid from showers, shaving, tooth brushing and hand washing, as well as perspiration and water vapor that collects inside the astronauts' space suits.
The water recycling unit, installed on Tuesday, will be hooked up to the new $19 million dollar toilet that is being added during this mission. The toilet is equipped with funnels that will channel the liquids to the WRS. All the reclaimed water will go through a processing system to extract free gas and solid materials such as hair and lint. Later, the system will remove any remaining contaminants through a high-temperature chemical reaction.
Talking about the system, Endeavour mission specialist, astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, said in a preflight NASA interview: "Some people may think it's downright disgusting, but if it's done correctly, you process water that's purer than what you drink here on Earth. More important, it allows us the capability of being more self sufficient and not requiring as many supplies to be sent up to the space station; going on to the moon and to Mars, that's really going to be critical."
Indeed, if successful, the WRS system will be crucial to some of the long-term missions NASA is planning for the future!