Water on the Space Station
Making a Splash in Space
Shuttle pilot Terry Wilcutt with 7 contingency water containers destined
for the space station Mir.
Before recycling can begin, there has to be some water to start with.
"We have plenty of water on the Space Station now," says Jim Reuter, leader
of the ECLSS group at the Marshall Space Flight Center. "The Russian
module Zarya is packed with contingency water containers (CWCs)
that were carried over from the Space Shuttle during assembly
missions earlier this year. They look like duffle bags and each
one holds about 90 lbs.
"But it's expensive to ferry water from Earth," he added. "We have to recycle.
There's already a Russian-built water processor in orbit that
collects humidity from the air. Here at Marshall we're building
a regenerative system that will be able to recycle almost every
drop of water on the station and support a crew of seven with
The ECLSS Water Recycling System (WRS), developed at the MSFC, will reclaim
waste waters from the Space Shuttle's fuel cells, from urine,
from oral hygiene and hand washing, and by condensing humidity
from the air. Without such careful recycling 40,000 pounds per
year of water from Earth would be required to resupply a minimum
of four crewmembers for the life of the station.
Not even research animals are excused from the program.
"Lab animals on the ISS breath and urinate, too, and we plan to reclaim their
waste products along with the crew's. A full complement of 72
rats would equal about one human in terms of water reclamation,"
says Layne Carter, a water-processing specialist at the MSFC.
It might sound disgusting, but water leaving the space station's purification
machines will be cleaner than what most of us drink on Earth.
"The water that we generate is much cleaner than anything you'll ever get
out of any tap in the United States," says Carter. "We certainly
do a much more aggressive treatment process (than municipal waste
water treatment plants). We have practically ultra-pure water
by the time our water's finished."