Tang for the 21st century

Technicalities

If you've spent enough time watching Star Trek or other science fiction fare, you might have found yourself mulling some of the everyday implications of space travel, such as: Where would they get enough water for large crews spending long stretches of time on board a spacecraft? Perhaps now we know.

NASA recently unveiled a $250 million machine to be used on the International Space Station that will recycle urine into water for drinking, food preparation and washing. The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to take the machine to the station this fall before the station's crew doubles next year from three to six members, who will require more water than can be shipped into space.

The Waste Recovery System is the second part of the station's Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System, NASA said. The first part, the Oxygen Generation System, went up last year. The WRS will distill waste, remove solid particles such as lint or hair, and then take the water through a series of filtration beds followed by a high-temperature catalytic reaction to remove any other contaminants and micro-organisms.

The result, officials said, will be cleaner than tap water, officials said. Faint praise, perhaps, but NASA's biggest concern isn't the quality of the water as much as the psychological barrier posed by the water's source.

Of course, astronauts go through physically and mentally rigorous training, and the majority of them are likely to have no trouble with this particular beverage. Perhaps a more jarring thought is how often technologies developed for the space program wind up being part of everyday life. In a world of 6.7 billion people where water is often scarce, WRS could have potential. Just don't read the label.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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