Recycled Astronaut Urine to Ride Shuttle Home
NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, commander of Expedition 18, explains the intricacies of the space station's new toilet in a video tour.
CREDIT: NASA TV.
Water from recycled astronaut urine is riding the space shuttle Discovery back to Earth after the successful test of a vital urine processor aboard the International Space Station this week.
Astronauts were expecting to pack about four or five liters of water samples from the station's urine recycler aboard Discovery before the shuttle's Wednesday departure from the orbiting laboratory so they can be returned to Earth for analysis before the system can be declared fit for human consumption.
"I'm looking forward to drinking it and finding out how it tastes," said Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata said in a televised interview this week. Wakata is Japan's first long-term station resident and will be aboard the station when the system may be ready.
The water samples taken today were siphoned from the station's potable water tap and other parts from its larger water recycling system after astronauts repaired a urine processor that broke down last December. In addition to recycling urine, the system collects astronaut sweat, wastewater and condensation from the station's atmosphere to recycle back into pure water for drinking, bathing and oxygen generation.
NASA wants to make sure the recycled water is ready to support the station's planned jump to six-person crews double the current size for the long term.
"We had great success with the operation of the urine processor assembly," station flight director Kwatsi Alibaruho told reporters from Houston this week.
The station's urine recycler began distilling astronaut urine back into pure water late Sunday night for the first time since it broke just weeks after being installed in late November.
Engineers tracked the glitch to a centrifuge-like distillation assembly, which spins to begin filtering pure water from waste. Discovery astronauts delivered a replacement for that 180-pound (81-kg), which the spaceflyers installed and tested over the weekend to apparent success. The new part did not make any of the loud noise and vibrations associated with its broken counterpart, the astronauts said.
"It's amazing to watch," station commander Michael Fincke radioed Mission Control during the test. "This bodes very well. This feels very, very smooth."
Discovery's seven-astronaut crew is in the homestretch of a 13-day mission to deliver Wakata and the last pair of U.S. solar arrays to the space station. Returning home aboard Discovery is NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, whom Wakata replaced, as she completes a 4-1/2-month mission at the station.
The shuttle is also bringing about five months' worth of blood and other biological samples from station experiments to waiting scientists on Earth.
The astronauts will undock from the orbiting laboratory Wednesday afternoon and are due to land Saturday.
SPACE.com is providing continuous coverage of Discovery's STS-119 mission to the space station, with reporter Clara Moskowitz at Cape Canaveral and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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