Astronauts Drink Recycled Urine, and Celebrate

Astronauts took a swig of recycled urine water to toast their successful testing of the wastewater recycling system on the International Space Station.

U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt called drinking the recycled water the stuff of science fiction, and cracked several jokes during the inauguration of the system known as ECLSS.

"We have these highly attractive labels on our water bags that essentially say 'brought to you by ECLSS,' and 'drink when real water is over 200 miles away,'" Barratt said.

Barratt appeared on NASA TV with crewmate Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut, and station commander Gennady Padalka, a Russian cosmonaut.Earth crowds gathered at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

The Expedition 19 crew participates in a toast aboard the International Space Station using water recycled from urine and wastewater in May 2009. (Image credit: NASA TV)

The water recycling system cost about $250 million and will be used daily to recycle urine and wastewater back into potable water suitable for drinking, food preparation, bathing and oxygen generation. The system has been used in the station's U.S. built oxygen generator, which uses electrolysis to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, since November.

"We have completely checked out the system from end to end," said Marybeth Edeen, a JSC manager who led the development of the space station gear needed to support a full six-person crew.

A series of glitches and malfunctions in the new space gizmo have prevented astronauts from using it since it launched last November with the space shuttle Endeavour's STS-126 mission.

Today astronaut Don Pettit spoke with the space station crew from Houston, as part of the STS-126 crew celebrating the overdue inauguration of the recycler. He also apologized for not leaving his homemade zero-g coffee cup.

"We're getting ready to toast with some of yesterday's coffee with you guys," Pettit said.

That prompted a tongue-in-cheek reply from the space station.

"We're going to be drinking yesterday's coffee frequently up here, and happy to do it," Barratt replied.

A round of "Cheers!" was followed by the astronauts "clinking" together giant water pouches, before each grabbed a sip from their straws. The crew toasted twice, once for Mission Control and once for Marshall.

"Gennady's showing it's perfectly clear and worth chasing in zero-g," Barratt noted as the Russian cosmonaut closed in on an escaping water drop.

Wakata thanked everyone for the "real teamwork that made it possible to drink this recycled water." His sentiments were widely shared.

The small celebration signaled an important step for the space station to support its newly expanded six-member crew starting later this month. Having recycled water available also lightens the load for Russian resupply ships.

"It was wonderful," Edeen told following the toast. "It really is the culmination of maybe a decade of work to make this happen."

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