One Man's Waste Is Another Man's Water

NASA’s water recycling systemWhen the space shuttle Endeavor took off for the International Space Station last Saturday, it brought along the mother of all Brita filters- a water-regeneration system that recycles perspiration, humidity, and urine into potable water for astronauts. The new gizmo could become a critical part of longer-lasting manned space missions. Until now, urine and other wastes have been dumped overboard, but that system relies on a steady resupply from Earth, something that might not be feasible for longer missions, especially with the space shuttles due to retire soon. Robert Bagdigian and his colleagues at NASA's George C. Marshall Space Flight Center developed the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System (shown in the snazzy black and white photo) to minimize the need for resupplying. The instrument uses some interesting tricks to distill, filter and disinfect wastewater in low or zero gravity conditions. For instance, at low gravity, steam won't naturally rise into a distillation chamber, so the scientists designed a distillation apparatus that spins, which creates forces that make it possible for steam to separate from liquids, salts, and other residues. The water tastes just fine, according to the astronauts and a New York Times reporter. Apparently, the only difference is a slight taste of iodine, which is added to kill germs. But don't expect this technology to become commonplace on Earth anytime soon. The urine-recycling system cost NASA a cool $250 million. Hat tip to Wired Science Blog. Photo credit: NASA

Author: Carmen Drahl

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