Bottoms up: Space station crew samples recycled urine

International Space Station crew toasts flight controllers and engineers Wednesday, sipping purified sweat and urine from the lab's new water recycling system.

The three-man crew of the International Space Station explored a strange new world Wednesday, boldly going where no other astronauts have gone before: toasting each other with sips of recycled sweat and urine in a major milestone for the lab complex.

With dozens of flight controllers and engineers joining them in a space-to-ground videoconference, station commander Gennady Padalka, flight engineer Michael Barratt, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata held a brief toasting ceremony, touching drink bags, and sipping recycled water for the first time since laboratory analysis confirmed its purity and cleanliness.

"We're just really, really happy for this day and for the team that put this together," said Barratt, floating with his crewmates in the Destiny laboratory module. "I know it took a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of very smart people. There were a lot of problems to overcome and it's all come to this. This is the kind of technology that'll get us to the moon and further, we hope. We're just really, really happy to be here drinking this today."

Koichi Wakata (left), space station commander Gennady Padalka, and Michael Barratt (right) take ceremonial sips of recycled urine in a key milestone for the lab complex. NASA TV

Before sampling the recycled water, he said "we are happy to have this water work through the system and we're looking forward to working it through our systems and doing it all over again."

Former space station science officer Donald Pettit told Barratt "we're getting ready to toast some of yesterday's coffee here with you guys."

"That's great to hear," Barratt said. "We're really fat with coffee up here, which is great for me, so we're going to be drinking yesterday's coffee frequently up here, and happy to do it...Here's to all of you who made this happen. Here we go, here's to you guys,, and here's to everybody."

The three station fliers then took a ceremonial drink from their water bags. Padalka squeezed out a blob of water and then drank it out of mid-air.

"The taste is great and as Gennady is showing you, it's perfectly clear and worth chasing in zero G here," Barratt said.

"It looks really, really good from down here," said space station Flight Director Courtenay McMillan. "I'm glad yours is only a couple of days old. Our vintage here is about four years old from ground testing at Marshall (Space Flight Center), but it still tastes just fine."

The station's $250 million U.S.-built water recycling system was installed during a shuttle assembly flight late last year . But problems with a centrifuge in the unit's vacuum distillation assembly forced the astronauts to extend testing until a replacement unit could be launched on a shuttle mission in March. The new unit worked well, and samples were returned to Earth for detailed laboratory analysis. Those tests cleared the way for today's ceremony.

The water recycling system is critical to NASA's plans to boost the station's crew size from three to six later this month. It will be especially crucial after the space shuttle is retired next year because Russian, European, and Japanese supply ships cannot carry enough water to support six full-time crew members.

Mounted in the Destiny laboratory, the water recycling system converts urine and condensate into pure water for drinking, personal hygiene, and oxygen generation. Given the cost of lifting water to orbit, officials say it will only take a few years for the new system to pay for itself.

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About the author

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.

     

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