Astronaut Taste Test: The Truth about Water from Recycled Urine and Sweat

By Nina Bai | November 21, 2008 3:18 pm

waterThe Endeavor shuttle shot into space last week carrying loads of fancy equipment for the International Space Station. Among the new gadgets to be installed is a water recovery system that promises to recycle 93 percent of astronaut urine, sweat, exhaled water vapor, and other waste water back into drinkable water. The whole shebang cost about $250 million to develop, but that’s still cheaper than having to send periodic shuttles to the station to deliver fresh water.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is, what does it taste like?

New York Times reporter John Schwartz took it upon himself to find out. He went to the Kennedy Space center where NASA officials offered him a bottle of water made from a 2005 prototype of the system. (The scientists generously “donated” their own liquids for the test run.) The label on the bottle read, “We use only the finest ingredients! Urine, Perspiration, Food Vapors, Bath Water, Simulated Animal Waste, and a touch of Iodine. No Carbs or Calories Added.”

And Schwart’s verdict?

“Aside from a slight tang of iodine, it tasted like, well, water. I’ve had tap water that tasted much more like things I don’t want to think about,” he reports. The iodine is added after the distillation process to kill germs and help preserve the water. In space, the iodine can be removed before the water is used for drinking.

Not convinced? Astronaut Sandra Magnus, who’s blogging from space, says it’s only the immediacy that’s disconcerting. She points out that we drink recycled water here on earth everyday—it just takes longer to go from toilet to tap.

Related Content:
Discoblog: International Space Station Gets New Toilet, Fridge, and Blogger
80beats: Oopsy: Astronaut “Drops” Tool Kit During Space Walk
80beats: Shuttle Crew Prepares to Start Space Station Home Improvements

Image: flickr / sergeant killjoy

MORE ABOUT: ISS, space, urine, water
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  • Frank

    Somebody should tell astronaut Sandra Magnus that she grossly oversimplifies the hydrologic cycle which naturally purifies water. That’s the trouble with all this misinformed scientific talk; it’s misinformed. Recycled water can be very, very hazardous to your health especially when the system is left unattended or there is a breakdown (hickup).

  • thomaschanges

    Interesting to know the truth about water.I agree that Iodine is the most popular chemical water purifier on the market.Just have a look at kangen water that can do wonders for your body.

  • Pingback: Today’s Conservation Gimmick: Drink Your Shower Water! | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • Jockaira

    I live in a desert area where water through the municipal system is sometimes unavailable for weeks at a time. I’ve rerouted all the water waste lines in the house (except for the toilets) to use that gray water to water plants and wash cars etc. For personal consumption, drinking etc., I collect atmospheric condensate from the air conditioners. The airconditoners produce about 25 litres of pure water daily; what I don’t use goes into a 10,000 litre cistern (to be used when the municipal system is shut down) with a half gallon of household bleach every six months for chlorination. Even the septic tank contributes by releasing water into the soil, which for many of the desert plants, is the difference between life and death.

    The only disinfection I use for drinking water is to leave the condensate-filled transparent jugs in the sun for a few days so the ultraviolet kills any bacteria that may have been introduced during the collection process.

    Granted I don’t drink my own urine, it’s also guaranteed that if I had no other water, I would (I might even filter or purify it beforehand).

    Water is too important to waste or use only once.

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