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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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  • closed eco-systems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by irtza (893217) on Monday November 17, 2008 @08:50PM (#25796035) Homepage

    Earth is also a closed ecosystem where we breath in the burnt remains of food ingested by our neighbors, where tap water is derived from the same lakes and streams that animals use as public toilets. Just because the filtration occurs further away and uses some natural bedrock, doesn't make it any different.

    Once you have just steam, it can no longer be considered urine, so drinking water is made from condensed steam

    I for one plan on no longer partaking in this twisted backwards environment. Long ago I employed the oil companies to convince the ignorant masses to emit large quantities of CO2 - in an elaborate plot to raise global temperatures and melt the pristine icecaps which I will then route into my drinking water. Furthermore, I will destroy this insane ecosystem that exists in this evil urine drinking manner. You may wonder why I am willing to so freely say this, but what can you do about it? What can you do! mu-hahaha.

    anyone know what we were talking about?

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @08:51PM (#25796057) Homepage
    These are a good investment even without interplanetary missions. One of the features of Frank Herbert's novel Dune [amazon.com] that I always thought fascinating was the stillsuit, where a person's waste water, whether urine, tears, or sweat, could be recycled with extreme efficiency. If you work in the desert, wouldn't it be nice to have one of these for emergencies?
  • by compro01 (777531) on Monday November 17, 2008 @08:53PM (#25796073)

    what is so hard to understand about a closed system?

    1. Getting it to work properly in microgravity.

    2. Doing so without taking up very much space or power, as both are in short supply on the ISS.

    3. Getting it to work reliably, as it would be decidedly bad for this kind of thing to break down halfway to Mars.

  • by unity100 (970058) on Monday November 17, 2008 @08:53PM (#25796085) Homepage Journal
    given the seal of approval for this pee thing - 'Astronaud Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper'.

    im not sure which fuckin reality im in, the one i know, or an alternate sci-fi universe.
  • Tell that to the guy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:02PM (#25796195) Homepage
    Tell that to the guy in this movie [imdb.com]. The only time I watched it I was thinking that couldn't possibly work.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:09PM (#25796257)

    "This is our advanced technology unit" she said, lifting up a small backpack. "We've developed a miniaturized package for field parties; twenty pounds of equipment contains everything a man needs for two weeks:food, water, clothing, everything."

    "Even water?" Elliot asked. Water was heavy: seven-tenths of human body weight was water, and most of the weight of food was water; that was why dehydrated food was so light.
    But water was far more critical to human life than food. Men could survive for weeks without food, but they would die in a matter of hours without water. And water was heavy.

    Ross smiled. "The average man consumes four to six liters a day, which is eight to thirteen pounds of weight. On a two-week expedition to a desert region, we'd have to provide two hundred pounds of water for each man. But we have a NASA water-recycling unit which purifies all excretions, including urine. It weighs six ounces. That's how we do it."

    Seeing his expression, she said: "It's not bad at all. Our purified water is cleaner than what you get from the tap."

    "I'll take your word for it."

  • by sdaemon (25357) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:10PM (#25796277)

    If we're to survive as a species, in the long run, we have to get off this rock. Permanently. And unless we perfect some form of cryo-sleep or faster than light travel (possibly even if we DO perfect those), we're going to need some means of recycling our own waste products into usable substances.

    I've been in situations where the only water available for drinking also happened to be the local wild animals' mudhole. Animal urine and fecal matter were most certainly present, but there was no other water for miles in any direction. So it was scooped up, run through a rag to skim off any solids, run through an activated charcoal filter to purify it, pumped full of iodine to kill any microbes that might have survived the charcoal filtration, then turned into koolaid to mask the taste. Survival situations will do wonders for changing what you are and are not willing to drink. I was fortunate that I had all that equipment for purification. Those living in third world nations don't have the option of stocking up at the local REI.

    And I imagine space travelers heading for outer worlds, asteroid belts, or other star systems will have their options pretty limited as well :)

  • Re:disgusting? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frieko (855745) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:17PM (#25796341)
    If life has had enough time to fill the air with oxygen, it's had enough time to fill the oceans with pee.
  • Re:Neat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by failedlogic (627314) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:58PM (#25797217)

    Funny you mention that. In a news segment on Canadian TV last year, there was a major deal between breweries being worked on.

    So, a few reporters decided to ask local beer drinkers in pubs if the beer of either company was worthwhile. The answer 100% of the time: "I don't drink either - it upsets my stomach. Only imports!"

    So maybe this association to the NAStronauts waste recycling program has some truth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @11:50PM (#25797641)

    I once visited a treatment plant that had a waster water treatment back to back with a water treatment facility. The water came in from the sewer system was treated to the point where it was drinkable again then injected into a reservoir to be saved for future generations. The only reason why nobody was drinking it now is because of the psychological/political factor.

    While visiting the final tank on the tour one of my fellow grad students, eager to demonstrate his confidence in the technology, grabbed a bucket that was laying around, scooped up some water and drank it. The rest of us urged him not to. "What?" he said, "The water is clean and it tastes fine."

    To which I replied, "Yeah, but who knows where that bucket has been?"

  • Re:Neat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by multisync (218450) * on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @12:39AM (#25797989) Journal

    Yup. Most computer keyboards have more fecal coliform on them than most toilet seats.

  • Re:Neat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vistic (556838) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:00AM (#25798465)

    You know H and O don't stay inseparably linked for all eternity once they join up as H2O, right?

    It's a dynamic, complex chemistry-filled world.

  • Re:Childish (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:30AM (#25798661)
    Some woman called Animal Control complaining that a bunch of us were letting our dogs pee at the park, where kids played. Guess she never really thought about where all the squirrels, rabbits, birds, rats, and other critters do their business.
  • Re:Neat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by polar bear (39098) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @08:18AM (#25800423)

    I'm British, and the first time I came across this "no flush" was actually in ... Newport, Rhode Island! Apparently the hotel and local plumbing couldn't cope with the paper.

    N.

  • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @09:36AM (#25801229) Homepage

    ... that the air you breathe or the water you drink or the food you eat hasn't already been through at least one set of lungs or digestive tract? The Last Breath of Caesar" [cuhk.edu.hk] calculation shows that every breath each of us takes likely contains 1 molecule of Caesar's Last Breath.

    Similarly, every glass of water you drink has an average of 3.6x10^12 or 3.6 million million molecules of Titanic Water [www.zyra.tv] (water from the iceberg that sunk the Titanic).

    From that link:

    The same kind of concentration also applies to a glass of 12 year old malt Scotch whisky because the water came from the same ecosystem. It is a sobering thought that ice cubes floating in whisky contain molecules which were once part of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, but it's a fact. If you wanted to have ice that didn't contain any "Titanic Water", you could achieve this by the curious irony of using ice from a modern iceberg! Any ice in icebergs now, for example from Greenland, has formed from snow which fell thousands of years ago. So, if you had a glass of old malt whisky with ice from an iceberg, the ice would contain no molecules from the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, whereas the whisky would do!

    Their disclaimer is funny, too: "Special disclaimer: We do not advocate or condone the use of ICE in whisky, and it is merely used here for illustrative purposes. We also do not condone the sinking of ships, and acknowledge that the iceberg was not entirely to blame for the sinking of the Titanic."

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