Space Station residents to drink recycled urine

NASA is testing a wastewater regeneration system that will clean astronauts' urine to make it drinkable. But will it really be "just as refreshing as any other kind of water"?

The crew of STS-126, the Space Shuttle launching Friday, will be delivering to the International Space Station a wastewater regeneration system that will recycle astronauts' urine.

If you're the kind of person who wants to do research on the International Space Station, it appears that you may need to cross some boundaries of taste many of us wouldn't even consider.

According to a BBC News story Friday, the crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday afternoon, will be handing off to their Space Station colleagues a water regeneration system designed to, among other things, recycle urine for reuse as fresh water.

The system, which will ionize, filter, distill, and oxidize wastewater, "will make yesterday's coffee into today's coffee," one astronaut told the BBC.

The idea behind the $250 million system seems to have been to figure out a way to ensure that residents of the Space Station had a supply of fresh water. To date, the Space Station has had the luxury of getting water deliveries from newly arrived Space Shuttles. But the Shuttle program is slated for retirement after 2010, and that looks to end the program's role as, among other things, the Space Station's personal water truck.

Still, the system won't be implemented right away. First, NASA wants to be sure that it works, as designed, in a zero-gravity environment.

On Earth, astronaut testers are apparently convinced that the filtration technology works just fine.

"Some people may think it's downright disgusting," Endeavour astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper told the BBC, "but if it's done correctly, you process water that's purer than what you drink here on Earth."

Some who have tried the recycled water did report a faint taste of iodine, but they didn't see that as a problem.

"Other than that, it is just as refreshing as any other kind of water," said Bob Bagdigian, who ran the system's development. "I've got some in my fridge. It tastes fine to me."