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One Small Sip for Man and a Giant Gulp of Recycled Urine For Mankind

May 30 2009 | Know Your H20,
by Ameliapent23@mac.com

Wednesday, May 20th made history as the day that NASA astronauts took their first drink of water recycled from their urine, sweat, and water that is condensed when air is exhaled. Astronaut Michael Barratt claims that, "the taste is great". While the American side of the space station is drinking water made from urine, sweat, and exhaled air, the Russian side of the station is only producing water from the last of the three. 

The urine recycling system is used at outposts on the moon and on Mars. This innovative system will save NASA money on water transportation to space and will allow crews on the space station to consist of six people instead of three. How, you may ask, is drinkable water created from urine? Well, it's quite simple, actually. The new system takes the combined urine of the crew from the toilet, moves it to a big tank, where the water is boiled off, and the vapor collected. The rest of contaminants — the yucky brine in the urine — is thrown away, said Marybeth Edeen, the space station's national lab manager who was in charge of the system. The water vapor is mixed with water from air condensation, then it goes through filters, much like those put on home taps, Edeen said. When six crew members are at the space station, they can make about six gallons of urine in about six hours.

Edeen also points out that the drinking of recycled urine also occurs on Earth, although with more time between urine and the tap. In space the process only takes about one week. This system has already been used for quick water purification after the 2004 Asian tsunami. While this technology has only been embraced by those floating in space thus far, it is still a glimmer of hope for us Earthlings. With this kind of technology, waste water can be reused, reducing our impact on the world's natural water supply. 


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