Three more people will soon move into the International Space Station—and they’ll be drinking, um….
- By Michael Klesius
- AirSpaceMag.com, October 30, 2008
(Page 2 of 2)
One of the Endeavour astronauts, mission specialist Sandra Magnus, will stay behind on the station for half a year as flight engineer, replacing Greg Chamitoff, who will fly home in her seat. Magnus and space station crewmates Mike Fincke and Yury Lonchakov will spend much of their time setting up and testing the new hardware.
Pettit calls the water processing racks “the jewel of what we’re bringing.” He knows about water conservation: During his 161 days on Expedition 6, when he brushed his teeth, he swallowed every ounce of the toothpaste. “A little water from a drink bag helps it down,” he says. He used pre-packaged, pre-moistened towelettes about three feet long—“long enough to see-saw across your back”— in lieu of a shower. Then he hung them next to the condenser, which extracted their precious ounces of water. The station already has a good system for extracting moisture from the air, he says. “When I was on station, we took yesterday’s sweat and breath and turned it into today’s coffee.” In fact, the only water he and his fellow astronauts lost was in urine.
When talking to the engineers and scientists who built the water recovery system, he suggested they build a prototype on the ground and show their confidence by testing the urine-turned-drinking water themselves. Chuckling, he recalls that they countered, “Oh, that’d be too expensive.” The STS-126 astronauts will bring back samples for analysis on the ground, before the astronauts on the station are asked to drink it.
Just as enthusiastic as Pettit about the station’s addition is Marybeth Edeen, manager of the Hardware Development Office and Space Station Vehicle Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Edeen has been watching the water recovery system, which was built at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, develop for a decade. For her, the most fascinating aspect is the compressed timeline of the water purification cycle. “Once we get all this hardware up and operational,” she says, “once we get the water cycle going, from the time it’s processed through the body and then through the system is about seven to eight days. On Earth it’s about 5,000-plus years from the time you drink water and pee into the system until that same drop of water comes back around.”
The new system is a major leap forward, according to Pettit. “Processing urine is something scientists have done on Earth in small doses,” he says. “But I’m unaware of any isolated, frontier-type situation where you take yesterday’s waste water and recycle it. Submarines, Antarctic exploration, whatever—nobody recycles their urine. It brings up a nose-wrinkle factor. But we can’t go to the moon and Mars if we don’t find a way to recover water.”