Image credit: NASA/Todd Mortenson
Unlike most boys, I've never really wanted to be an astronaut. And this latest piece of news just confirms my misgivings. The internet is full of stories that astronauts on the current shuttle mission will be testing a new system for recycling their own pee and sweat into a sugary energy drink. Yum, yum.
But it's not all bad. Jerry posted before on the idea of a pee-to-water converter that enables the recycling of human, or even animal, urine into drinkable water. But it's not science fiction. (Brian tells me that the good guys in famously drank their own pee.)
Already tested by soldiers and relief workers, NASA has more details of the space-ready forward osmosis system that will be used by astronauts to create drinkable, sugary and flavored energy drinks from their bodies' own waste fluids:
The idea is to make a fortified drink that provides hydration and nutrients from all sources available aboard a spacecraft, such as wastewater and even urine. The method set for testing uses a process known as forward osmosis. "Forward osmosis is the natural diffusion of water through a semi-permeable membrane," explains Michael Flynn, research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "The membrane acts as a barrier that allows small molecules, such as water, to pass through while blocking larger molecules like salts, sugars, starches, proteins, viruses, bacteria and parasites."
While not exactly appetizing for the squeamish, the implications for sustainability are enormous. While the city of Portland drains 8 million gallons of drinking water because one person peed in it, many other parts of the world are facing severe and worsening drought situations. Many of us may baulk at the idea of drinking filtered pee—but not as much as we baulk at the idea of dying of thirst.
And as for those poor astronauts, it's not all ickiness. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that they'll also be sampling space beer. No word yet on whether forward osmosis will be used to "recycle" particularly tasty craft brews.
More on Urine and Sustainability
Portland Drains 8 Million Gallons of Water After Man Pees In It
Pee-to-Water Converter is Neat But Kinda Gross
Recycling Pee to Powder Makes Superior Fertilizer
Wiping Your Face with Urine, and Other Natural Delights