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NASA Space Idle Technology

NASA Contractor Needs Urine 291

Apparently, NASA sent a memo to its employees at the Johnson Space Center asking for their urine so they, NASA, could use it to test the Orion space capsule. How much urine? 30 liters per day, including weekends. Disposal of urine for up to six months would be required if Orion is to work as planned.

Alert reader nettamere adds a link to story at, excerpting: "Donations will be treated with a chemical that can hold solid particulates in the liquid so they don't clog up the tubing in microgravity, said Leo Makowski, company spokesman for Hamilton Sundstrand, a contractor designing the new spaceship's toilet. ... "It's difficult to come up with a faux urine, explained NASA's Jim Lewis, the systems manager overseeing development of Orion's potty. 'That's why we depend on collections.'"

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NASA Needs Urine

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  • Urine? Is that all? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @03:37PM (#24218059)

    A professor I used to work for did research on the cryogenic preservation of sperm. The grad student who was working on this project wanted to run some initial tests, and we were not yet shipments of an appropriate animal substitute, so he acquired some samples himself.

  • Re:In other news, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @03:37PM (#24218065) Journal

    This is actually a big problem; urine disposal is significant over time because it can cause serious corrosion.

    There was a fleet of airplanes...I can't remember whose now...cargo planes...They had to be refitted, and a significant amount of redesign done, because the design of the restrooms coupled with air turbulence, ended up with a significant amount of piss dripping down on to one of the primary structural braces, and, over time, weakening it to the point of needing replacement.

  • by homesnatch ( 1089609 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @04:07PM (#24218633)
    Maybe they're just looking to cut costs? Yellow River Synthetic Urine is available for $12 for 90cc. Computes to about $4000/day for their needs. [] (NSFW)
  • by wherrera ( 235520 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @04:24PM (#24218947) Journal

    Of course, this is not the first large scale industrial use of urine. A venerable brand of pharmacy industry estrogen replacement treatment for women ( Premarin []) is made from vast quantities of horse (pregnant mare) urine. The horses spend their pregnancy hooked to a catheter. There are lots of synthetic versions now, of course.

  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @04:37PM (#24219199)

    This was a better deal in the good old days before law suits ruined everyones fun. For developing the shuttle toilet (ISS uses the russian toilet) there were company sanctioned keg parties after hours in the company park to help the collection along. True story. This was at the CT site, before the TX existed.

    The article doesn't get into much more than the toilet, but the full cycle will be to feed that into WCS (waste collection system) which will then go into the OGA (ox gen assembly), with end result being O2 to breath and H which will probably be tossed overboard unless they decide to add the sabatier unit to it which will take CO2 and H (plus catalysts)to produce water and methane. The theory behind it is that up to 90% of the O2 needed for a trip to Mars can be gotten from personal water intake and humidity.

  • Re:But really... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @04:55PM (#24219515)

    It would depend on how they're collecting samples. Back in the late 90's I was doing a gig at a JSC building where they happened to also be working on long-term, closed life support environments. One of the projects involved recycling urine and big collection drums showed up in the buliding restrooms. My memory is a bit fuzzy on the the details of the collection device but it was a pretty simple affair - little more than a big red plastic drum with a suitably large collection port on the side and a sign that read "please donate urine." We sysadmin types joked about drug testing (we'd all taken wiz-quizzes as part of employment). But if such a thing was going on, they'd have to do a lot of individual testing to catch the individual spiking the barrel as it were. There would be much simpler ways to do this.

  • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @04:55PM (#24219519) Journal

    That's not unusual: the cheapest test subjects are always the people doing the research.
    When Mary Roach was writing "Bonk" -- a book devoted to medical research on sexuality -- she wanted to see the process, not just the results, of a doctor running an MRI and imaging people having sex. The people who did such research said there was absolutely no way she could watch unless she supplied the test subjects. (She and her husband went. Uproarious, really interesting book to read.)
    Likewise, in undergrad microbiology courses, it would be unbelievably expensive and difficult to hand out human blood samples to students to have them, say, look at live blood cells under a microscope, so students routinely draw samples from themselves, because that way there's almost no risk of contaminated blood.
    My ex-gf built ultrasound transducers for medical imaging. When the company was getting started, everyone who worked there was a man (engineering, yaaaay.) So their first breast imaging setup, they hired a hooker, because they couldn't find a cheap test subject. The prostate imaging? they flipped a coin, or drew straws, as to who got to be on which end of the test equipment.

  • by uncqual ( 836337 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @05:17PM (#24219849)
    Just put a couple women in a car and have them drive around. Every time they need to stop and pee, have them collect it. As they will need to stop about every two or three minutes and they must produce something significant each time they stop (although, I must admit, I've never actually verified they really do pee on each "rest stop" - I sometimes wonder how they could), they will have the required eight gallons per day in just a couple hours.

    (One of life's mysteries - what is it about getting in a car that causes women to feel a need to pee every five minutes?)
  • Re:In other news, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @06:23PM (#24220707) Homepage Journal

    This isn't about disposal. During the Apollo missions they just put the, uh, stuff in plastic bags and tossed it out the porthole. Nobody complained.

    (During the age of sail, they used to refer to the stuff that surrounded a becalmed ship as "Captain Brown".)

    Obviously, they're working on recycling. There's no way that a lengthy lunar mission can carry along enough water without it.

  • Plants! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b1ng0 ( 7449 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @06:47PM (#24220987)

    Plants love urine if it is diluted with water at between 5-10:1. Seriously. I have been using it on all of my plants in an effort to cut down costs on fertilizer and to reduce toilet flushes. Urine contains almost all nutrients that plants need: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and lots of micronutrients and B vitamins. My plants are flourishing on the stuff.

  • by jamrock ( 863246 ) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @02:01AM (#24224429) read this long, rambling post only if you have an interest in aircraft and aviation. You have been warned.

    Your comment reminded me of an incident that occurred at Miami International when I worked there in 1980-82. Some background: I worked on the north side of the airport for an FBO (handler of private and corporate aircraft) and I didn't know it at the time, but MIA had quite a reputation among aviation buffs for the large number of classic aircraft parked all over the north side, including any number of DC-3's [], and incredibly, a Lockheed Constellation [] parked at "Corrosion Corner", the northwest corner near the fire station. When a private collector (rumored to be John Travolta) bought it and flew it out, there were hundreds of people lined up with cameras to see the stately old beauty take to the air after years sitting on the ramp. Disappointingly, I only knew it was leaving when I saw it climbing gracefully away, and so didn't get a picture of this magnificent aircraft; I never imagined that I'd ever see one flying.

    The north side, the entire length of which bordered NW 36th Street, was home to dozens of -quite literally- fly-by-night operations; charter companies ranging in size from small operations with one or two light twins, up through outfits with old DC-3's still in perfect operating condition, to larger cargo operations with jets, mostly DC-8's []. The smaller, one and two plane outfits operated mostly between South Florida and the Bahamas, almost exclusively at night. More on that in a bit.

    Next door to where I worked, one of these charter companies had a single, beautifully-maintained DC-3, and one morning while I was inspecting the ramp, I glanced at the bird and noticed that there were enormous holes in the belly of the aircraft. Turns out that the night before, they had been flying a cargo of old car batteries when they encountered severe turbulence, and the batteries started leaking all over the cabin. They didn't notice the damage until they had actually landed and parked the aircraft, at which time they saw the ground through the huge, corroded holes, and found that the control lines had been almost completely eaten through. If they had kept flying for another ten minutes or so, they would have crashed.

    At the time I worked there, the "Cocaine Cowboys" (the Medellin and Cali cartels) were just coming up to speed. "Miami Vice" had just come on the air, but some of the stuff I saw at the airport would have been laughed off as unbelievable if it had been in the script of the TV series. Miami in general, and Miami International in particular, was swimming in cocaine. MIA is the major gateway for Latin American carriers into the U.S., and in those days before the widespread crack epidemic, a day didn't go by without some major drama, and there was a wild, almost frontier feel to the north side, with all the goings-on at these little (and big) operations. The difference between charter and cargo ops, and the much more genteel terminal, with the bars and bookstores and the palm trees in the parking lots, was as stark as night and day, and most commercial passengers had absolutely zero clue that such a seedy underbelly existed.

    - Ever seen 6,000 pounds of cocaine in one place? [raises hand] Air Panama DC-8, gift-wrapped in streamers of yellow crime scene tape, parked next door to our office. The three tons of coke were stuffed into freezers in the cargo hold. Feds crawled all over everybody for weeks. I used to work the midnight shift, and so got quite familiar with many of the charter pilots who were in and out in the wee hours of the morning, on their "cargo" flights to the Bahamas. Imagine my shock when one of them handed me a kilo of cocaine one night, just because I was always polite and courteous to him (hell, I was polite and courteous to everybody; some scary folks frequented north side). He was

  • by jamrock ( 863246 ) on Thursday July 17, 2008 @01:15PM (#24230229)

    Much more frightening than any of the drug dealers was the cargo operation across the street from our office, which was a front for an arms dealer. He owned a bunch of Boeing 707 cargo jets (and a 727 with a tricked-out interior for his private use), all parked at a beautiful state-of-the-art hangar which had his office on the top floor. By sheer, blind coincidence one of his bodyguards was actually a childhood acquaintance from my hometown, and he used to come by my house occasionally for a beer, and we'd trade stories of the bizarre goings-on on MIA north side. His boss was one of the largest weapons dealers on the planet and actually had long lists of people who wanted him dead, so consequently always traveled in an armored Benz with an entourage of bodyguards. Such was his legitimate fear of assassination that he had in the hangar an elevator into which his chauffeur would drive his car, and which would take the car directly up into his office. He didn't dare take the chance that someone could gain access to his car in the parking lot and install a bomb.

    This gentleman was Syrian or Lebanese if I remember correctly, had extensive contacts in the Middle East, and played both sides of the fence with equal facility (one of his jets had to be escorted to safety in the Gulf by Israeli F-4's after being threatened by Iranian fighters). From what I understand, much of his business was in South and Central America, hence his Miami HQ. He was in a vastly more lucrative business than any mere cartel leader could imagine, and dealt legitimately with governments on a scale that would make a coke dealer green with envy. What's more, he did a LOT of work for Uncle Sam when plausible deniability was called for, so he was in absolutely no danger of being shut down by the feds. I later heard that he had been the factotum in the Iran-Contra Scandal, the party who had actually procured and shipped the Stinger missiles to Iran. Just this direct glimpse into the dirty side of global politics made a huge impression on me. Before that, it really had been an abstract concept, things you only read about, but to hear first-hand some of the things that governments are capable of was horrifying and abhorrent. Gangsters are saints compared to some of our elected officials.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."