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Right: Shuttle pilot Terry Wilcutt with 7 contingency water containers destined for the space station Mir.
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."
Actually, people don't stop and think about this too much, but everyone's drinking some one else's waste water...