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NASA Space

Urine Passes NASA Taste Test 404

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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  • Neat (Score:5, Funny)

    by Captain Splendid ( 673276 ) * <capsplendid&gmail,com> on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:36PM (#25795863) Homepage Journal
    However, I don't think anybody wants to drink this warm, so better make that piss frosty.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by siddesu ( 698447 )

      Not many grown ups on this site, obviously.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The dupes here on Slashdot don't get it that the entire planet is a closed system too. Let them have their Xboxes; when the time comes we'll use them for soylent green. Mmmmm, soylent green...

      • 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 []. 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:Neat (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:21PM (#25796385)
          Yeah, pretty disgusting. That's why I never flush my toilet.
          • 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
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              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.

              Holy fricken' easter egg surprise batman!... You're very forgiving to only ban him for 2 months.
              What's this "truth" you're talking about? Foreigners not following local customs and doing grotesque things, is okay?
              When in Rome, do as the Romans do - unless they do it in a basket, then all bets are off.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by JamesP ( 688957 )

              People do that because the hydraulic system (is not as good as in the US/etc and) gets clogged if you do that.

              For people who are used to it, it's no biggie. Yeah, I know, "excrement ridden", sounds gross, but it's only a matter of taking it, closing the bag and disposing it.

        • by JoeGee ( 85189 )
          Exactly so. NASA is simply speeding up the process.

          Talking about unusual contaminants, in my home town we had a particularly disturbing incident a few years ago at our local reservoir. A fisherman drowned. No body turned up. A month later divers found him, stuck in the city water intake ... For a month we had been drinking the most interesting "tea." Three days later they reported his body found washed up on shore. It sounded better in the newspaper.

          Once the water has been filtered and treated,
        • Re:Neat (Score:5, Informative)

          by complete loony ( 663508 ) <`Jeremy.Lakeman' `at' `'> 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.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by multisync ( 218450 ) *

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

          • Re:Neat (Score:5, Funny)

            by cyn1c77 ( 928549 ) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:05AM (#25798163)

            Mythbusters looked at the toothbrush / fecal bacteria thing and found bacteria on a toothbrush kept in the kitchen. That stuff gets everywhere.

            That's not from the toilet flushing, that's because you left me alone with your toothbrush for 5 minutes.

            I can't help it, when I have an itch, I HAVE to scratch it!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Enderandrew ( 866215 )

          I used to have sewage reclamation plants in California as one of my clients. They take fresh sewage, separate it, clean it, and turn it back around as drinking water. It happens all the time.

          However, the toothbrush myth was debunked on Mythbusters. Toothbrushes kept closer to the toilet did not contain more bacteria. However, they did show that toothbrushes all over the place, even kept outside the bathroom (in the middle of the lab) had bacteria. They pretty much all had the same levels of bacteria.

    • Re:Neat (Score:5, Funny)

      by narcberry ( 1328009 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:53PM (#25796081) Journal

      Some of us can't throw away $250M on something like this, we're forced to drink ours le naturale.

    • Tell that to the guy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dj245 ( 732906 )
      Tell that to the guy in this movie []. The only time I watched it I was thinking that couldn't possibly work.
  • HOWEVER (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FunkyRider ( 1128099 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:40PM (#25795905)
    you process water that's purer than what you drink here on Earth. - It might be the case physically/chemically, but not psychologically.... "Look, I'm drinking purified pee and it's tasty!" God...
    • Sometimes when I'm thirsty, and REALLY don't want to leave the computer in my Mom's basement - I drink urine.

      • Re:HOWEVER (Score:5, Insightful)

        by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:55PM (#25796113) Journal

        From your high userid I can identify you as a noob. For future reference, these types of comments are best posted ANONYMOUSLY. God help you if anyone knows your real name. I foresee a future employer doing a google search on your various aliases and THAT comment turning up.

        • From your high userid

          Dude, UIDs are up to the 1.4M range now. I don't think you can call his "high" when it falls into the bottom 50%.
          • I'm in the creamy middle.

            I think I've been doing this for at least 10 years... not sure I'm still a newb except to the old and crusty, though :)

        • by dbIII ( 701233 )

          I foresee a future employer doing a google search on your various aliases

          Why tell them? Personally I don't think people should and various idiocy like people getting fired for their facebook photos (eg. the "drunken pirate" schoolteacher) highlight this.

          As for the new here remember there were thousands of people looking at this site on day 1, many of which cowered anonymously for ages or later lost passwords (doh!) or both. While you can tell someone with a low id was here for ages it's hard to tell with

        • I foresee a future employer doing a google search on your various aliases and THAT comment turning up.

          It'd be SOOOO worth it.

        • Re:HOWEVER (Score:5, Funny)

          by weber ( 36246 ) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @07:18AM (#25799747)

          "Wow, what a dedicated employee! No bathroom breaks, just sitting working endlessly at his computer with at tube from his pants to this mouth."

    • So what do you think that the water your drinking is? Yep, more than likely its been pee a few times over, along with being dinosaur spit, and a whole lot of other things. Its called the water cycle.
  • In space... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward one can hear you steam. Your piss.

    Space is a horrible place.

  • by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:42PM (#25795931) Homepage Journal

    Oh yeah, funny, astronaut pee. But for crying out loud (and losing valuable water in the process), what is so hard to understand about a closed system?

    "Going too far" is spending millions of dollars to send precious DHMO [] to the space station, when there are perfectly good pre-assembled dihydrogen monoxide molecules being blown out into the vacuum.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by compro01 ( 777531 )

      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.

  • Childish (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:42PM (#25795937) Journal

    It's bad enough that the mainstream media has been acting like a bunch of prepubescent children over the urine recycling, but now Slashdot has to get into the game as well?

    "that may leave you wondering if NASA is taking recycling too far"

    Uh, nope, it doesn't leave me wondering that at all. In fact, when I first read about it I was rather surprised that the ISS wasn't recycling urine already. Any manned moon-base, or long-duration trip to reach Mars, would absolutely require the recycling of urine.

    • 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?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Solandri ( 704621 )
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pi_rules ( 123171 )

      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.

      • 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.

    • NASA has been intentionally delaying the installation of a water recycling capability on the ISS. Without one, the ISS requires frequent trips from the Shuttle to replenish the water they dump overboard (which I consider borderline criminal.) The recycling capability has been on the books for years, and should have been one of the first modules installed. That is, of course, unless you don't really want the ISS to be self sufficient for any stretch of time.
      • by trawg ( 308495 )

        This is an interesting comment, but without references it sort of sounds a bit conspiracy theory-esque. Do you have references to back this claim up?

        • 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. [] 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 Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:42PM (#25795939)

    turn today's brownies into tomorrow's brownies

  • disgusting? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pescadero ( 1074454 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:43PM (#25795955)
    Why is that so disgusting? All the water you drink was probably pee at some point anyway.
    • by Draek ( 916851 )

      Why is that so disgusting?

      Because no mechanical system is completely fail-proof.

      • by Xaria ( 630117 )

        You might want to stop drinking water then ... because these systems are generally BETTER than your local water purifying plant. And THAT water has passed from farm to city ... cow dung in your water anyone?

    • by Peyna ( 14792 )

      It's a lot more disgusting if you live on a very small lot with a leech field and well less than 50 feet from each other.

    • That's why I only drink Diet Coke.

  • by Titoxd ( 1116095 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:47PM (#25795997) Homepage
    Although it makes for a nice Beeb quip, no, it is not too far. Sending water into low-Earth orbit is not cheap (a launch delta-V of ~ 9 km/s) , and sending it to other places like the Moon and Mars is even more expensive. That's why it is necessary to begin testing and using this technology, where it is possible to actually send replenishment water in case something doesn't work properly.
    • by ArcSecond ( 534786 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:12PM (#25796289)
      Your rational response is too much for the morons in the mainstream media and (unsurprisingly) Slashdot submitters/editors to parse.
      Try to keep your analysis to something a little more apropriate for a grade 3 class, please. I mean in a story that is about conserving resources, ensuring safety, and pushing humans-in-space technology forward, how are you going to draw attention to your story if you don't pander to bathroom humour and sexual innuendo?
      We don't need your kind around here, elitist.
    • It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere...

      Seriously, think of all that vacuum available for distillation, and all that cold-side refrigeration, plus the infinite surrounding junkyard, space is the ideal place to purify water.

      And if you need more, there's a fair bit circling Saturn you could probably use, with a bit of work.

  • by KenMcM ( 1293074 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:48PM (#25796009)
    I'd be worried if they were attempting this and they didn't take the recycling far enough.
  • closed eco-systems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by irtza ( 893217 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:50PM (#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 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.

  • New and improved Tang better than prior Tang

    Another innovation spin off from the space program.

  • by JimboFBX ( 1097277 ) on Monday November 17, 2008 @09:59PM (#25796153)
    "Here I'll put a blind fold on you and.. there you go, ok now drink this delicious fluid." "Hmmm its water, but it doesnt taste like tap water, it tastes filtered. Aquafina?" "No, pee" *PHHHttt*
  • Urine [] 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 []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 17, 2008 @10:09PM (#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 dbIII ( 701233 )
      There was some good near-future stuff in that novel. Pity giant homocidal albino gorillas with stone ping-pong bats ruined it. I really didn't understand why a giant gorilla would want or need two stone ping-pong bats to kill people if it was so inclined.
  • Think about it. I'm sure they had to try a bunch of times to get it to pass the taste test. Who volunteered to test it? How much were they paid?

    They couldn't hire winos since you could give them pure, unpurified urine and they'd say it was an excellent vintage.

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

  • They should have included Zima and Baby Duck. The astronauts would have been begging for unprocessed urine as an alternative.

    Time saved. Money saved. Mars, here we come!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    well, you drink it as urine.

  • Contrary to what some of you might think when you drink tap water there is a very high likely hood it's been processed from the wastewater of others.

    Unless you live at the top of water supply chain (the literal top of the mountain) another city used your water source and discharged it's sewage back into it before you got it. To put it bluntly, everyone is downstream and you are drinking the wastewater of the cities upstream from you.

    Just because it flowed in a river or seeped into the ground and was pumped

    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
      I only drink Coca Cola you insensitive clod! On a side note, I grew up drinking Volvic, cause where I'm from pig farming makes tap water almost undrinkable. And that thing's coming straight from a volcano, so you know no one peed in it!
  • They recycle body waste on Arrakis too...

    Liet-Kynes: Urine and Feces are processed in the thigh-pads.

  • Boiling dirty water and recondensing the steam... Perfectly simple... What's the big deal?
    • Still, while I don't want to be supercritical I dew think the esteamed publication was just being condensending.
  • Naturally occurring water here on earth has dissolved minerals and other trace elements that are critical for our health. It is not advisable for people to drink only distilled water over any long term, without taking other precautions.

    I suspect NASA has taken this into account, and do add additives to the water (iodine is mentioned for added sterility) but just FYI for wannabe distilled-piss drinkers out there.

  • A quick google didn't turn up an authoritative source... However, Jerry Pournelle makes the claim that in the '70s the cleanest running stream in California was the output of the hyperion wastewater treatment plant. Which wasn't saying that the natural streams were necessarily horrible, but they do have natural pollutants (the bears gotta crap somewhere, right?), so the treated water is cleanest. Always sounded quite logical to me.

    Malfunctions not withstanding, of course.

  • ... I always laugh at people who think "ewww yuck" at recycled water, if they knew the kinds of waste products from all the other organisms that exist in their drinking water, the lakes they swim in, etc, they would be just as disgusted. We already do technically eat the waste products of other animals and ourselves and have been doing so since forever, the fact that people are so distanced from nature I think add's a lot of distortion to their perception. Since once you become divorced from the cycles of

  • Does anyone have calculations on what percentage of water hear on Earth has passed through the body of a human? What is the probability that any particular H2O molecule has passed through the body of a living organism as urine?
  • I seemed to recall hearing that they already did this a decade ago...
  • 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.
  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @10:36AM (#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" [] 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 [] (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."

Happiness is twin floppies.