Did you know that NASA recycles water in outer space? The International Space Station was equipped with an apparatus that will take the sweat and urine collected from astronauts and converts it into reusable water. Prior to the development of this new recycling water device, crews used to have to rely on water carried to the ISS via space shuttles or cargo rockets sent directly to the site.
The NASA developed recycler will reduce that by 65-percent with an output of approximately 6-thousand pounds of potable water per year. With that volume, the space station can double the number of crew members it can host at once from three to six. The recycler can reuse 93-percent of the water fed into it, according to NASA.
The challenge in recycling water in space comes from gravity. Distilling water on Earth involves just boiling water and cooling the steam produced back into water with the steam flowing through a filter separating contaminants from the water. Without gravity, the separation process does not occur. In order to distill water in space a keg-sized distiller has to be spun to create an artificial gravity field.
When the distiller is spun, the contaminants in urine are pushed against the side of the distiller drum and steam is gathered in the middle of the spinning apparatus. The steam is then pumped through a filter which contains charcoal materials to pull away the contaminants.
If this sounds very familiar, it should. It is basically the same kind of system used by any other water filtering system with the exception of the need for an artificial gravity field. The goal of NASA’s recycling water system was to reduce the need for supplies to be shipped from Earth. It also means that astronaut crews would be able to endure longer space missions as a result.
The water recycler is one of several projects that have been under development to make space flights more efficient and kinder to the environment. Another such example is an oxygen generator which splits the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in water. It then sends the oxygen back into the space station in the form of breathable air.
And that’s not all. The NASA water filtering process has led to filtration developments that have resulted in distribution to parts of the world where water sources have been contaminated. This humanitarian effort has allowed NASA to touch many lives on Earth as they continue to explore away from Earth.