The International Space Station gives a whole new meaning to reuse and recycle, most specifically when discussing drinking water. See, between the two sides of the space station, every droplet of moisture is collected and recycled as the potable water supply. That means all breath condensation, sweat, and, of course, the waste from the astronauts and cosmonauts we all think of as pee.
In a fascinating litany of trivia, Bloomberg’s Justin Bachman describes the processes used up there to recycle all of this dihydrogen monoxide into something humans can actually consume. See, on this specific task, the Russians and the Americans split duties. The Russians use ionic silver which is a known anti-bacterial agent to kill all the germs in the sweat, shower run-off and condensation in the spacecraft and then add epsom salts to improve the taste. The Americans, on the other hand, take the pee collected in bags from all biologicals (humans AND animals) – just like the Apollo 13 guys did and then stored for ballast – and zap all the junk with iodine. The downside of that is iodine has to be filtered out. (The American way of doing things is the old fashioned one and will be replaced with the Russian way on future missions…if there ever are any after the Obama Administration has all but destroyed NASA.)
“It tastes like bottled water,” Carter says of the water that emanates from the urine processing system, “as long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.”
Layne Carter is the water subsystem manager for the ISS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Ala. It was his life that was set into a frenzy when not one, but TWO transports on their way to the ISS didn’t make it there due to being incinerated at launch and falling out of orbit and crashing in the last year. It seems that the supplies included items needed to make the Russian condensation collectors work AND do the iodine trick with the urine. Fortunately, the Japanese came to the rescue on this one and managed to get all the filters up to the people on ISS this week. Otherwise, “Houston, we have a problem” would take on a whole different meaning.