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IMAGE: Cindy Hutchens
Life support engineer Cindy Hutchens works in a laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Cindy Hutchens,
Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Ala.

Engineer oversees water recycling experiment

January 2003 -- Cindy Hutchens thinks a lot about something most people take for granted -- water.

An aerospace engineer for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Hutchens is responsible for a Space Shuttle experiment to make life aboard the International Space Station more efficient and water a little less hard to come by.

“Growing up in Holly Pond (Ala.) in a region where water is plentiful, I don’t think I ever gave much thought to the importance of water to my life,” Hutchens said. “Working in the space program as I do, my perspective now is that water is as valuable as gold.”

Water is so costly to launch into space aboard the Shuttle or Russian supply ships that each Space Station crewmember is allowed only 4.4 gallons per day. The average American uses 60 gallons per day on Earth. That’s why NASA is working to collect and recycle as much water as possible.

Hutchens oversees the Vapor Compression Distillation (VCD) Flight Experiment, which is being tested during the STS-107 mission this month. It is a full-scale demonstration of technology to turn crewmember urine and wastewater aboard the Space Station into clean water for drinking, cooking and hygiene. Based on results of the experiment, an operational urine processor could be installed aboard the Space Station in the future.

“When this technology is installed aboard the Space Station, it will be able to recycle about 4,400 pounds of waste water annually to support the crew and decrease the re-supply burden on the Shuttle,” Hutchens said. “The early pioneers in this country could find water along their way, but that’s a luxury space explorers don’t have. It’s a technology we will need to explore the space frontier.”

Hutchens graduated from Holly Pond High School and then earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1986 from Arizona State University in Phoenix. She joined NASA in May 1987, and has devoted much of her space-program career to water recycling for space applications, authoring or co-authoring 16 technical papers on the subject.

“The space program is a very stimulating environment,” Hutchens said. “I’ve been lucky to be part of designing, developing and building flight hardware to be flown aboard the International Space Station.”

In her spare time, Hutchens enjoys sewing, reading and scrapbooking.

All text and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight Center.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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