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NASA Space

Urine Passes NASA Taste Test 404

Posted by kdawson
from the not-mine dept.
Ponca City, We love you writes "Astronauts flying aboard space shuttle Endeavour are delivering a device to the International Space Station that may leave you wondering if NASA is taking recycling too far. Among the ship's cargo is a water regeneration system that distills, filters, ionizes, and oxidizes wastewater — including urine — into fresh water for drinking or, as one astronaut puts it, 'will make yesterday's coffee into today's coffee.' The US space agency spent $250M for the water recycling equipment but with the space shuttles due to retire in two years, NASA needed to make sure the station crew would have a good supply of fresh water. The Environmental Control and Life Support Systems uses a purification process called vapor compression distillation: urine is boiled until the water in it turns to steam. In space, there's an additional challenge: steam doesn't rise, so the entire distillation system is spun to create artificial gravity to separate the steam from the brine. The water has been thoroughly tested on Earth, including blind taste tests that pitted recycled urine with similarly treated tap water. '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,' said Endeavour astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper."
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Urine Passes NASA Taste Test

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  • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:42PM (#25795933)

    No, they paid two hundred and fifty million dollars to get it to work. In space. Without taking up to much space or energy in the space station. (Where both are at a premium.)

    And this is essential technology if we are ever going to leave the Earth-Moon system. Shipping enough water for a manned trip to even the nearest planet is simply prohibitive, in weight, volume, and cost. So long-term it's a good investment. (If you think we should invest in space at all, of course...)

  • Re:Childish (Score:5, Informative)

    by maxume (22995) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:53PM (#25796077)

    People are too far from their food. If people are upset over urine, what would they think of all of the solid waste that ends up as fertilizer?

  • by n76lima (455808) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:55PM (#25796105)

    The waste water treatment industry has 3 levels of treatment here on Earth. Primary was what was done in the 60's and before (if any treatment). Solids were ground and held to allow bacteria to digest it (the septic tank method) and it was dumped in the river to dilute it for downstream, with a shot of Chlorine. Then secondary treatment came online in the 70's and later, which is what most municipalities do today, where the solids are filtered out by vacuum or pressure filters and burned or buried, but you'd still be able to tell that the chlorine treated effluent was far from potable.

    Finally there is tertiary treatment, which yields water so pure you could drink it (disgusting as it might seem), and this is what is implemented at locations such as Lake Tahoe CA. The water flowing out of the waste water treatment is cleaner than that in the lake itself, after the calcium filtration, etc. There are also de-nitrogenation and de-phosphoration processes to "scrub" the effluent of excess Nitrogen and Phosphorus.

    How did you think the Mission to Mars was going to supply water to the crew? Certainly could not tanker enough fresh water to make the multi-year trip to Mars AND BACK.

  • by imneverwrong (1303895) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:06PM (#25796237) Homepage
    Urine [wikipedia.org] is water with stuff dissolved in it. Remove the solutes, and you get water again, which is all that this process is doing. There is nothing special about it, nature has been doing this for a long__________ time, as has the republic of Singapore [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Neat (Score:5, Informative)

    by lysergic.acid (845423) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:13PM (#25796307) Homepage

    it's not just this site. the maturity level implied by the summary/article bodes poorly for the human race.

    it's called the water cycle [wikipedia.org]. any water you consume, no matter where it's from, has been recycled through natural ecological/biochemical processes. in fact every molecule that makes up your body has been "recycled" in countless ways.

    there's nothing gross or unsanitary about recycling the waster from urine through proper distillation. there is absolutely no difference between drinking water distilled from urine and water distilled from rain water or river water. that kind of irrational thinking is the reason why people will spend 10x the money to buy name brand drugs rather than the chemically & pharmacologically identical generics.

    you should be more grossed out by keeping your toothbrush within 20 ft of your toilet (as most people seem to do) since studies have shown that fecal bacteria can be sprayed up to 20 ft from the toilet each time the toilet is flushed.

  • Re:Childish (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:55PM (#25796663) Homepage Journal

    In fact, when I first read about it I was rather surprised that the ISS wasn't recycling urine already.

    Same here.

    Isn't it pretty much the safest source of drinking water? You only need something that can handle things that are already in the bodies of the astronauts. We can safely assume none of them have any nasty viruses in them, and I'm pretty sure we don't have bacteria in our own urine, so you're down to getting the sodium and urea out of it I guess.

    This has been debated here in Australia in places where water is very scarce. One issue is with hormones and drugs which get into the urine and can find their way back into the food supply via a recycling system.

    Outside inputs to the food chain are heavily regulated on the ISS so I assume this aspect is taken care of.

  • by gnick (1211984) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:29PM (#25796931) Homepage

    Tell that to the guy in this movie
    WTF? You should have linked to Dune, [imdb.com] not frigging Waterworld! Now go hand in your geek card.

    Blasphemer. You linked to the 1984 Sting version of Dune!?!
    Here. Have a nerd's Dune link... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0142032/ [imdb.com]

  • Re:Neat (Score:5, Informative)

    by complete loony (663508) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [namekaL.ymereJ]> on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:29PM (#25796935)
    Mythbusters looked at the toothbrush / fecal bacteria thing and found bacteria on a toothbrush kept in the kitchen. That stuff gets everywhere.
  • Worse... (Score:2, Informative)

    by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:41PM (#25797047) Journal
    They studied three weeks to pass this urine test. [rimshot]
  • Re:Neat (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:54PM (#25797185) Homepage Journal
    You jest, but in some countries like China or Mexico, the excrement-ridden toilet paper isn't flushed. It's simply tossed into the wastebasket. It's one of those foreign things that's hard to take at first sight, much like public sale of dogs for human-food.

    I was introduced to the T.P. phenomenon after a Mexican buddy visited my home. I'd been to Mexico many times but I didn't know not to flush because I never took shits there and I was usually so drunk that I never bothered to look in the trash bins. Seeing that ugly brown clump in my wastebasket was enough to ban him from my apartment for a good 2 months before I learned the truth from a few more buddies at home and abroad. Ahh, Western ignorance! :D
  • by Migraineman (632203) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:39AM (#25797557)
    Yeah, I know it sounds like the rant ... but here's a link to a NASA page from November 2000. [nasa.gov] The device in question is the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). And I quote:

    The ECLSS Water Recycling System (WRS), developed at the MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center), will reclaim waste waters from the Space Shuttle's fuel cells, from urine, from oral hygiene and hand washing, and by condensing humidity from the air. Without such careful recycling 40,000 pounds per year of water from Earth would be required to resupply a minimum of four crewmembers for the life of the station.

    Honestly, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but this was pretty damned blatant. Sorry for the lack of supporting linkage. I couldn't remember the system's acronym, and I was feeling a bit lazy.

  • by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:09AM (#25797793) Homepage Journal
    In the movie, the suits were black to suck up even more solar rays

    Which was stupid. The book clearly states the Fremen wearing light robes over the stillsuit, for better camouflage, and, yes, keeping cool.
  • Re:Neat (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:23AM (#25797893)

    I don't know that all of these locations actually use recycled water for drinking water -- reclaimed water in many cities is labeled separately and in some cases can only be used for irrigation.

    (I used to live in Santee, CA, where part of the water reclamation system is also a city park used for boating and fishing -- my high school used reclaimed water for irrigation, and all of the pipes and associated taps for that water had to be colored light purple to distinguish them from the rest of the water system.)

    Also, I believe the proposal in L.A. has been to introduce reclaimed water in a reservoir augmentation plan -- the reclaimed water gets added to the reservoir, where it is mixed with additional fresh water and filtered again before going out into the rest of the system.

  • Re:No, I'm New Here (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:28AM (#25797925)

    Its amazing the number of your posts are nothing but that. At least we have a UID to date when that particular meme must of started getting popular...

  • Iodine (Score:3, Informative)

    by matt me (850665) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @09:47AM (#25800693)
    After the water has been through the purification system, they add iodine. They don't need to, but the water is so pure it tastse weird, so iodine is added to make it more familiar.

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson

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