Saturday, November 2, 2013

Waste in Space

You’ve heard of The Circle of Life, but how much do you know about The Circle of Waste? On the International Space Station, nearly all of the wastewater produced by the crew (sweat, urine, bathwater, etc.) is filtered through a recycling system and converted back into clean water. Naturally, this includes the wastewater that is produced by the rats. In fact, on the Space Station, a complement of 72 rats equals about one human in terms of water reclamation.

That’s right; astronauts drink rat pee…maybe I should back up a bit. On the Earth, every ecosystem has a built-in recycling plant; if these systems are not affected by humans or other cataclysmic events, they take waste and recycle it into usable material—very little is wasted in the Earth’s natural life-support system.

Since the International Space Station (ISS) does not have a natural waste management system we’ve had to engineer our own way of dealing with urine and other forms of wastewater. One of the most basic ways that astronauts’ cope with wastewater is conservation. For example, instead of consuming the usual 13 gallons (50 liters) of water in the shower, astronauts on the ISS use less than 1 gallon (4 liters) of water to bathe. But no matter how much water you conserve—unless you recycle—sooner or later you’ll run out.

Find out how astronauts manage on the ISS at:

Image source: NASA

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