Courtesy vcalzoneHey, 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.