Nov
18
2008

Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.
Woman contemplates a future of urine drinking: As she sips her apple juice.Courtesy vcalzone
Hey, hey, don’t get too excited, Buzzketeers. We’ve been drinking our own pee for a long time. Way back in the past, we drank it for ceremonial purposes. And back in the present we drank it all the time! We drank it to stay alive, we drank it to be on TV (we loved TV back then, didn’t we?), and sometimes we drank it just because we were into that sort of thing.

But here in the future, we’ve really perfected drinking pee. And not just in the Kevin Costner/Waterworld way—that method requires gravity and science fiction, and we’ve figured out how to do it without gravity, with science.

The obvious application here is astronauts. As intriguing as zero gravity and space travel might sound initially, the fact remains that astronauts are trapped in a relatively tiny capsule for great lengths of time with little to occupy their time beyond telling dirty jokes and drinking their own urine. Unfortunately, there are only so many dirty jokes (although mixing and matching punch lines can extend things), and, as wikipedia’s entry on urophagia reminds us, you can only drink your own wiz so many times before problems arise. (Although, as I understand it, the problem with repeatedly drinking pee isn’t that you end up drinking super-pee, but that you get dehydrated, and your body has to reabsorb the toxins from the urine.)

With this new development in urophage tech, however, it looks like astronauts will be able to while away mission hours drinking pee to their hearts’ content.

Now, it should at least be mentioned that the aim of technology here is to turn the pee into something called “water,” and to then drink it. But the principle remains the same. Existing urine-recycling systems rely on gravity, but, again, that’s not an option for astronauts. The new system, soon to be installed on the International Space Station, will take urine, along with water from hand washing, tooth brushing, showering, and space suit sweat, and extract free gas and solid materials from the fluid, before removing remaining contaminants with “a high-temperature chemical reaction.” The result, according to one astronaut, can be “purer than what you drink here on Earth.”

That, ma’am, sounds like a challenge.

Potential efforts to defeat the system through dietary or medical methods aside, the water reclamation process makes a lot of sense. Previously, urine was vented into space, and more water needed to be delivered to the space station. This process should cut about 15,000 pounds from the amount of water and consumables that need to be brought to the station each year, and with the cost of shipping each pint of fresh water into space hovering around $10,000, the savings are nothing to sneeze at. (Considering that “a pint’s a pound the world around,” the system should save something like $150,000,000 a year, if the cost is actually as simple as those figures.)

And no doubt it’ll keep the astronauts happy.

Your rating: None Average: 2.3 (4 votes)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

plee057's picture
plee057 says:

I will never use pee for anything. wheen It comes out it gets flushed down, not back in my system.....

posted on Tue, 11/18/2008 - 3:57pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Not even for writing in the snow?
Weird...

posted on Tue, 11/18/2008 - 4:45pm
zouapha's picture
zouapha says:

hum...so there was this article that i read about with global warming and how the poles will melt and dilute our fresh water. If we already have this technology to purified urine, then is there really a reason to worry about having less fresh water in the world?

posted on Tue, 11/18/2008 - 4:41pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Well, I'm not totally sure about the article you read (the icecaps are fresh water, but I don't really know how they fit into the water cycle) but, yeah, I don't think this changes much for water shortage worries.

This is for a couple reasons—astronaut pee, in the grand scheme of things, is a pretty small quantity of fluid to purify, and I'm guessing that this technique, that is, the equipment and energy it requires, isn't super cheap. Not cheap enough for everyone on the planet, anyway.

Also, part of the issue with climate change is that while some regions will probably be getting wetter, other areas will be drying up. And people don't just need fresh water for drinking—they need huge quantities of if for farming (among other things).

I think it's going to take some different breakthroughs to solve future water problems. (Plus, filtering technology has already been available here on the surface of the planet, but getting it to work in space was the main challenge with the technology mentioned in the post)

posted on Tue, 11/18/2008 - 4:52pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Well, purifying water in this way isn't cheap, or easy.

(Something like a fifth of the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water already, so a reduction in the supply of fresh water IS a concern.)

But melting ice caps will dilute SALT water, not fresh water. (Polar ice is frozen fresh water, and when it melts, it melts into the ocean.) So I'm not sure what the article you read was about. See if you can find it and post it!

posted on Tue, 11/18/2008 - 4:54pm
Jackie Rabideau's picture
Jackie Rabideau says:

Ok, that settles it, I never want to be an astronaut. Although, the jokes sound like fun.

posted on Thu, 11/20/2008 - 10:12pm
shaunalynn10's picture

that is nasty i will never drink my pee

posted on Wed, 11/26/2008 - 3:53pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Never say never.

After all, there's no such thing as "new" water. All the water on Earth has been recycled over and over again for billions of years. Our planet has the same water now as it did in the days of the dinosaurs, and it's all the water that will exist in the future.

All the drinking water in the world, whether it comes out of your tap or your Evian bottle, is recycled wastewater.

posted on Wed, 11/26/2008 - 4:28pm
cabrunne's picture
cabrunne says:

I agree, all water that remains on earth is eventually recycled at some point. On the other hand, ejecting urine into space will never be recyled again. Seems like a waste of a valuable resource.

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:12am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Ah, I'm glad my campaign to have pee classified as a valuable resource is becoming a success.

The plan is finally coming together. I'm going to be rich.

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:32am
SLC's picture
SLC says:

I would never be able to drink my own pee that seem so nasty.. Whoever can drink that should be ashame cause their water hello people we still living. If you aint got water then use ur spit gosh pee??? Cmon now that's gross.

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:04am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

Have you read the full story?

posted on Thu, 12/04/2008 - 9:05am
cent0012's picture
cent0012 says:

Essentially this is the future of waste water treatment plants. In fact sanitary waste water treatment plants in California are now producting drinkable water.

posted on Fri, 01/16/2009 - 11:54am

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