I have no doubt that the astronauts on board the International Space Station and shuttle Endeavour will be able to fix the balky urine recycling water system. Why? Mr. Fixit is part of the crew. During his stay on the ISS in 2002/2003 as part of Expedition 6, astronaut Don Pettit became well known for his Saturday Morning Science and tinkering with broken hardware. He’s also renowned among astronauts for building or fixing things with paper clips. But now as part of the STS-126 shuttle crew, he has invented something close to his heart: a zero g coffee cup. Like many Americans, Pettit loves his coffee. But drinking coffee from a bag just isn’t the same as sipping and savoring your morning brew. Until now, all liquids have been sipped from a bag in space because of how liquids operate in a zero gravity environment. But during his off-time on Sunday, Pettit used a piece of plastic ripped from his Flight Data File mission book and folded it into a airplane-wing shaped cup.
How does it work?
Surface tension inside the cup keeps the coffee from getting out and floating around the ISS and possibly causing problems.
“We’re no longer sipping from a bag, we can drink from a cup,” said Pettit. “With the special shape of this cup, the surface tension forces will wick the coffee up along the edge.”
The cross section of the cup looks like an airplane wing, and the narrow angle will ‘wick’ the liquid up. “This is what we use when we design fuel tanks for rockets to reignite in weightless environment,” said Pettit. “The veins in the tank will wick the fluids into the suction port. Knowing this for a fuel tank, you can make a cup, and you can enjoy sipping a cup of coffee instead of drinking from a bag.”
See a video here from on collectSPACE.
But Pettit was also busy yesterday using his tinkering skills to fix the water recycling system which will allow astronauts to convert urine, sweat and other used water into potable water. The problem with the system appears to be too much vibration from a centrifuge motor, and on Sunday Pettit removed some rubber dampers from a distillation assembly in hopes of fixing the problem. While the system ran longer than it has previously, it ultimately shut down once again.
The water recycling system is crucial for NASA’s plans to increase the station’s crew size from three to six in May 2009. NASA managers had hoped to collect test water from the urine recycling system and send samples home with the shuttle crew for testing to make sure the water is safe for drinking and cooking.. and making coffee. So, with Pettit aboard, I’m thinking the water recycling system is in good hands, and fixing it is probably a priority for him.
“I like to call it the coffee machine,” said Pettit in an interview before launch about the urine to water system. “It will take yesterday’s coffee and turn it into today’s coffee.”
Sources: collectSPACE, Space.com