Ultimate Recycling on the ISS: Urine to Water

Right now, the crews on board the International Space Station consist of three people. But by late next year, the crew size will grow to six. That means more food, more water and ultimately more waste. But NASA has been working on a recycling system to transform urine and other liquid wastes into water that can be used in space for drinking, food preparation and washing. Agency officials say the water from the system will be cleaner than U.S. tap water. Not only does this help manage wastes on board the station, but its also a cost-saving measure. Water is heavy and launching it on board the shuttle or Progress re-supply ship is expensive.

The Water Recovery System recycles liquid wastes — which can consist of urine, sweat, or leftover water used for bathing or food preparation — by filtering it through a series of chemical processes and filters, making it safe to drink. Urine, for example, first passes through a distillation process to separate the liquid phase from the gaseous phase, after which it is mixed with other water waste and is treated with the help of a water processor.

After removing the remnant gaseous and solid phases, the liquid is filtered for additional purification and undergoes a high-temperature catalytic reaction, in order to destroy unwanted organic contaminants.

The system is scheduled to be brought to the ISS on the STS-126 mission, planned to launch this fall.

“Recycling will be an essential part of daily life for future astronauts, whether on board the space station or living on the Moon. Delivering this hardware is an important step in achieving the station’s full potential, allowing for additional crew members and more scientific research”, said NASA’s station program manager, Mike Suffredini.

Recycling will reduce the amount of consumables needed on board the space station by as much as 6,800 kilograms per year.

Original News Sources: Softpedia, USA Today

11 Replies to “Ultimate Recycling on the ISS: Urine to Water”


  2. Which begs the question, who is the first on the ISS to try a nice big glass of this stuff?

  3. The answer is whoever happens to be on the ISS at the time. Anyone squeamish about drinking recycled water is just being irrational.

    But then, we do have a multi-billion dollar per year bottled water industry when tap water is just as clean and drinkable…

  4. Considering (as of 2005) that one in three samples of bottled water had ten times the bacterial contamination of city tap water (not to mention no regulations for testing for parasites), I’ll stick with tap water (or recycled urine), thanks. XD

  5. Hey, at least its not being used as a liquid for creating wine, which might eliminate some of the filtering processes. Now, that would be scary. 🙂

  6. Actually we’ve all been using this system since life began on our planet… first we swam in the stuff, then when we came out onto dry land we started drinking recycled water that is purified by distillation and filtering in clouds and soil…

    Anyway, IMHO anyone not willing to drink anything for the privilege of going to space should not be given that rare privilege.

  7. if it is going thrugh the same filtration & purification process as tapwater, there shouldn’t be a problem drinking it

    Where do these ‘ugh-yuckky’ people think tap water comes from?
    H2O Faeries??

  8. Recycled urine is just the start for future water saving initiatives on our planet. Waste Water Mgt will take on newer projects after this. I’d sooner trust recycled urine to the crap(scuse the pun)currently located in our tap water…why do you think all those purifier products are so popular, or even people who buy bottled water as a ‘safe’ alternative to tap water? Finding a recycling solution that actually works is amazing work. Good Job!

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