Do Astronauts Drink their Pee?

In order to fly in space, astronauts need to make a few sacrifices, like drink their own urine. Yuck? Don’t worry, it’s totally safe.

Astronauts are a resourceful bunch. They’re the best of the best of the best of the best. They’re ready to do whatever it takes to get the job done. WHATEVER IT TAKES, INCLUDING DRINKING PEE. They live on the International Space Station for the better part of a year, where air, food and water are precious resources. Sometimes you take a hit for the team back.

Every drop of water on the International Space Station was carried there from Earth, by rocket, possibly in someone’s bladder. The cost of launching a single kilo into orbit can be over $10 grand. Do a little back of the tp math and the value of a single kilogram of water in space is worth almost as much as a kilogram of yellow gold here on Earth.

That’s actual money gold, and not pee joke gold. The punchline is astronauts need to conserve water. For the longest time, there wasn’t any way to take conservation to the “next level”. All the “waste water” including pee produced on the station was just held, possibly uncomfortably and resulting in dancing, and it needed to be disposed of.

In 2009, NASA got serious about conserving water and launched the Water Recovery System to the International Space Station. What is it with you guys and names? I would have shot for “Precycling Internal Solution System” just for the acronym. In fact, that’s what we’re using now.

Ever since, astronauts have been drinking their own urine like Captain Redbeard Rum on Blackadder. Generally after it’s been purified by the recovery system, or if you prefer “peecycled”. Outside of that I’m sure accidents happen, and whatever they get up to in their own time is their business.

Speaking of which, Here’s a video of beloved Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrating the P.I.S.S system. It takes all water vapor, sweat, and grey water produced and excreted by astronauts and turns it back into drinkable water.

On Earth, you can clear dirty water by boiling it. Collect your steam on a cold surface, pure, pee free and ready for drinking again. Pro tip, this process actually requires gravity, which isn’t readily available when you’re in free fall.

The Recovery System looks like a big spinning keg, which creates artificial gravity. It’s heated and steam is produced. Dirt and contaminants such as the most purified pee molecules are pushed to the edges of the drum while the steam is carried away.

NASA's Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA
NASA’s Water Recovery System. Credit: NASA

The artificial gravity isn’t perfect, and only 93% of the water can be recovered this way. This means that dirty waste water builds up inside the space station and needs to be flushed with the rest of the trash. Astronauts can’t peecycle everything on the space station, trash does build up. They’ve got a solution for this too.

The most recent cargo delivery spacecraft is always left attached to the space station. Instead of doing laundry, which would use up their precious water and is super boring. Seriously, if you went to the trouble of sending me to space and asked to me wash my clothes I’d get a little snippy.

Astronauts do what the rest of us only dream about. They just wear their clothes until they’re totally worn out. Then throw their laundry into the excess module. Once it’s completely filled with pee, laundry, food remnants, and other, uh… stuff, the spacecraft detaches from the station and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere where it’s incinerated. No fuss, no muss. Also, clearly for this episode, we’re only going as far as pee jokes as poop jokes are off the table.

Yes, astronauts are drinking their pee. They close their eyes and remind themselves it’s just pure water. Completely safe and delicious to drink. No pee molecules left here. As astronaut Koichi Wakata said, “Here on board the ISS, we turn yesterday’s coffee into tomorrow’s coffee”.

Would you be willing to drink the water produced by the Water Recovery System? Tell us in the comments below.

Watch Live As Three People Return From Space Today

It’s time to come home! Expedition 39 astronauts Rick Mastracchio, Koichi Wakata and Mikhail Tyurin will climb into a Russian Soyuz spacecraft later today to make the trip back to Earth from the International Space Station. Much of the activity will play out on NASA TV, which you can watch above. Below are details about when to watch.

These are the descriptions from NASA about when the major events of the day occur. Bear in mind that all of these times are subject to change as circumstances warrant.

3 p.m. EDT / 7 p.m. UTC — Farewells and hatch closure (hatch closure scheduled at 3:15 p.m. / 7:15 p.m. UTC )
6:15 p.m. EDT / 10:15 p.m. UTC — Undocking (undocking scheduled at 6:33 p.m. / 10:33 p.m. UTC)
8:45 p.m. EDT / 12:45 a.m. UTC — Deorbit burn and landing (deorbit burn scheduled at 9:03 p.m. EDT /1:03 a.m. UTC landing scheduled at 9:57 p.m. EDT / 1:57 a.m. UTC)

The crew is expected to land near Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan. After doing some quick medical checks on site, the crew will be flown out separately to do more detailed testing at their local medical centers.

With Wakata flying home, the station is now under the command of Expedition 40 NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, who will oversee activities there along with Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The rest of the Expedition 40 crew should fly to station May 28, if all goes to plan.

Event Alert: Watch Space Station Hatch Opening Live Tonight

Update, 8:33 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz spacecraft arrived safely at station at 7:53 p.m. EDT (11:53 a.m. UTC) and coverage of the hatch opening is scheduled at 10:15 p.m. EDT (2:15 a.m. UTC).

After spending an extra couple of days in the cramped Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the incoming International Space Station crew will likely be very be glad to get out and stretch their legs. You can check out the festivities live in the video link above.

Three people are set to make a docking with the orbiting complex at 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC). If all goes to schedule, they’ll pop the hatch open at 10:40 p.m. EDT (2:40 a.m. UTC). Meanwhile, engineers are trying to figure out what caused the malfunction that prevented a docking as planned on Tuesday (March 25).

Remember that all schedules are subject to change, so tune into NASA TV well before each event happens.

The Expedition 39/40 crew lifted off Tuesday afternoon (EDT) from Kazakhstan to take a fast track to the space station that should have seen them dock on launch day. The Soyuz has to make three engine firings or burns to accomplish this. The docking was cancelled after the third burn did not happen as planned. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has determined this was because the spacecraft was in the wrong orientation, but the underlying cause is still being investigated.

Once this happened, the crew switched to a standard backup procedure to bring them to the station in two days instead. (This path, in fact, was what all crews did up until last year.) The crew is safe and in good spirits heading up to the docking, NASA has said. The Soyuz has done several other engine firings since, with no incident.

The Soyuz crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). Awaiting them on the station are Koichi Wakata (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency),  Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos). Wakata is in command of the station, marking a first for Japan’s astronaut corps.

Astronauts ‘In Good Shape’ As They Face Space Station Docking Delay

Despite a problem that held up last night’s International Space Station docking, the Expedition 39/40 crew is doing well as they execute a standard backup procedure to bring their Soyuz spacecraft to the station on Thursday, NASA said.

The crew was originally expected to dock with the station around 11 p.m. EDT (3 a.m. UTC), but an error with the spacecraft’s position in space prevented the engines from doing a third planned “burn” or firing to make that possible, NASA said in an update.

“At this point, the crew is in good shape and the vehicle appears to be in good shape,” said Kenny Todd, the space station’s operations integration manager, in an interview on NASA TV Wednesday morning (EDT). “At this point, everything looks real good.”

In fact, the spacecraft has done a couple of burns since to get it into the right spot for a docking Thursday evening, Todd added. (So it appears the crew just missed the window to get there on Tuesday night.) The underlying cause of the orientation problem was not mentioned in the interview, presumably because it’s still being investigated.

NASA is quite familiar with a two-day route to the space station as up until last year, all crews took two days to get to the space station. This took place for 14 years until a rapider method of reaching the orbiting complex within hours was introduced.

The crew includes  Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), who will join three people already on station when they arrive.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA

Current station residents Koichi Wakata (the commander, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency),  Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos) got to sleep in this morning and had some minor modifications to their schedule because of the docking delay, Todd added.

Instead of taking the day off as planned, the crew will do some work. A planned ISS software update for last night is going to be pushed “down the line”, Todd said, adding that the forthcoming SpaceX launch on Sunday and docking on Tuesday is still going ahead as planned.

We’ll provide more updates as the situation progresses. Docking is scheduled for 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC) Thursday and will be covered on NASA Television.

‘Yesterday’s Coffee’: Drinking Urine In Space Could Preview Mars Exploration Techniques

“Here on board the ISS, we turn yesterday’s coffee into tomorrow’s coffee” is a slogan that sounds a little like a Don Draper-led advertising campaign. Seriously, though, it’s a nifty way in which Expedition 39 commander Koichi Wakata describes in this video (also embedded below) how the astronauts drink purified urine on the station.

The water is perfectly hygienic once it runs through the system, and moreover, it could be a useful trick for future space colonists to remember.

Water is heavy, at about 8.3 pounds per gallon (or roughly 1 kg/liter) at room temperature. And astronauts in space do need to go through a lot of it to prevent dehydration and other illnesses. Throw in demanding activities such as exercising two hours a day or going on a spacewalk, and you can see how quickly people in space go through it.

Everything sent into space has an associated launch cost with it, and space engineers are always looking for ways to shave a few grams here or there. By installing the water purification system (which was completed in 2009 with Wakata on board), NASA said it would be able to reduce the amount sent up to station.

When people speak of space colonies on the Moon or Mars, they often talk about landing them near a large source of water ice and then using that to help support the people working there. As NASA once wrote in a worksheet, “Until an orbiting grocery store is opened, recycling of water and air will be crucial for crew survival.”

Check out Wakata’s explanation of the water recycling system below. For more information on recycling water in Mars colonies, one source to start with could be T. A. Heppenheimer’s “Colonies In Space”, published on the National Space Society website.

When Doves Fly: Swarm Of Tiny Satellites Shot From Space Station

Astronauts fired up the International Space Station’s Yard-a-Pult (actually, we mean the Japanese Kibo arm’s satellite launcher) this week to send out a flock of Doves or tiny satellites that take pictures of the Earth below. An incredible 28 satellites from Planet Labs of San Francisco are expected to swarm into orbit — the largest fleet yet, NASA says — but there have been delays in launching some of them.

The aim? To provide Earth observation information for any purpose that is needed, whether it’s disaster relief or looking to learn more about the Earth’s environment. Planet Labs and NASA say that commercial applications could include real estate, mapping, construction and oil and gas monitoring.

Deployments of two satellites each began on Tuesday and Wednesday, but NASA noted there are “glitches” (which the agency didn’t specify) that are holding up the launch of other ones. There’s no estimated date yet for sending out the rest of the satellites.

“We believe that the democratization of information about a changing planet is the mission that we are focused on, and that, in and of itself, is going to be quite valuable for the planet,” stated Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs.

The Japanese Kibo robotic arm on the International Space Station deploys CubeSats during February 2014. The arm was holding a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer to send out the small satellites during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA
The Japanese Kibo robotic arm on the International Space Station deploys CubeSats during February 2014. The arm was holding a Small Satellite Orbital Deployer to send out the small satellites during Expedition 38. Credit: NASA

Flock 1 is a customer of the NanoRacks CubeSats program. CubeSats are small satellites that heavily rely on computer miniaturization to do the job of Earth observation and telecommunication that previously was the province of much larger and more expensive satellites. NanoRacks provides space both inside and outside the station for research experiments.

Expedition 38’s Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata both commented on the unusual launches. “Two small satellites are deployed from our launcher here on the space station. Each a little bigger than loaf of bread,” Mastracchio tweeted, while Wakata wrote, “Congratulations on the successful deploy of the satellites by the NanoRacks CubeSat Deployer and Kibo robotics!”

For more information on Flock 1, check out the Planet Labs website. You can also check out an animation of how NanoRacks CubeSats deploy in the animation below (which includes a clip from the song “We Are Young” by Fun.)

Ghostly Moon Crowns Pictures Beamed To Earth In Astronaut’s Twitter Feed

A crescent moon hovering above Earth’s delicate atmosphere. Green aurora flickering over Siberia. Space is a beautiful place, and we’re lucky right now to have an experienced photographer showing us the sights (or is that sites?) from the International Space Station.

In between preparing to be Japan’s first commander of the orbiting complex, JAXA Expedition 38 astronaut Koichi Wakata has tweeted at least one picture a day showing the view out the window and activities that he’s working on. It’s hard to pick favorites, but here are some of the best ones of the past week or so.

Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata sports the Olympic rings in this photo taken aboard the International Space Station in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata sports the Olympic rings in this photo taken aboard the International Space Station in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
"Great to work on Capillary Flow Experiment-2, a research on liquid’s “wetting” behavior," wrote JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in January 2014. At the time, Wakata was on the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 38. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
“Great to work on Capillary Flow Experiment-2, a research on liquid’s “wetting” behavior,” wrote JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in January 2014. At the time, Wakata was on the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 38. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
A night shot of Nagoya, Japan -- one of the country's largest cities -- by Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
A night shot of Nagoya, Japan — one of the country’s largest cities — by Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
The aurora or northern lights over Siberia. Photo taken by Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in 2014 from the International Space Station. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
The aurora or northern lights over Siberia. Photo taken by Expedition 38 JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata in 2014 from the International Space Station. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
"Patagonia glacier – amazing art of the nature," wrote JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata of this picture he snapped during Expedition 38 in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)
“Patagonia glacier – amazing art of the nature,” wrote JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata of this picture he snapped during Expedition 38 in 2014. Credit: Koichi Wakata (Twitter)

Take a Tour of the Phonebooth-sized Crew Quarters on the International Space Station

Phone booths. You know, those things that Superman used to change into his cape and tights. According to news reports, the last phone booths in use in the US will be decommissioned and hauled away sometime this year. If you’ve ever had the chance to actually use one of these communication relics, you know how cramped they are inside. But they provide a good size comparison to the tiny crew quarters on board the International Space Station.

In this new video, Japanese astronaut and Expedition 38 Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata provides a tour of the crew quarters inside the International Space Station’s Harmony node where there are four individual living spaces. They include a sleeping bag, laptop computers and gear for communicating with family members.

Astronauts Brave Brief Ammonia Snowstorm As They Conclude Fix To Space Station

Toxic snowflakes in space were just one obstacle astronauts faced down today (Dec. 24) as they successfully replaced an ammonia pump that will, if all goes to plan, put the space station back in full service in a few hours.

“They’re just completely surrounding us now,” radioed NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio of the ammonia flakes as the astronauts clipped four fluid lines into place on to the spare pump. NASA said the ammonia was just residual fluid and not indicative of a leak. “Some little ones, some big ones,” he added.

Within a few minutes, however, the ammonia dissipated. Some flakes did strike the spacesuits of Mastracchio and fellow NASA spacewalker Mike Hopkins, causing NASA to do a modified decontamination procedure where the astronauts stayed in a vacuum for a few extra minutes inside the airlock. (The sun’s heat bakes off ammonia over time, and the crew was outside long enough for most ammonia to dissipate, NASA said.)

The spacewalk completed with no further drama at 7 hours and 30 minutes, earning high praise for the participating astronauts from Mission Control in Houston.

“It’s the best Christmas ever,” radioed CapCom and NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock from the ground as the spacewalkers entered the International Space Station’s Quest airlock at the end of the repair job. “We got it,” Mastracchio responded.

NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock (left) and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide served as CapComs during two tricky ammonia pump replacements in December 2013. Wheelock assisted Expedition 38 spacewalking astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, while Hoshide helped Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata with robotic maneuvers. Credit: NASA TV (screenshot)
NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock (left) and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide served as CapComs during two tricky ammonia pump replacements in December 2013. Wheelock assisted Expedition 38 spacewalking astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, while Hoshide helped Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata with robotic maneuvers. Credit: NASA TV (screenshot)

Preliminary tests show the spare pump is working perfectly. The pump is a welcome present for the six-person Expedition 38 crew, which saw a reduction in science and backup systems for two weeks after a valve in the last pump failed, causing one of the station’s two cooling loops to shut down automatically. The loops are needed to regulate the temperatures of electronics and systems on station.

The Expedition 38 crew was so quick with the repair that they finished the job in two spacewalks instead of the planned three. The astronauts fell behind the timeline today as they struggled with some of the fluid connections to the new pump, but the final steps — putting the electrical connections in place — took just minutes. The pump was brought from another location on station today, and installed into its permanent spot to help ammonia flow through the cooling system.

Anywhere between hundreds and thousands of people at NASA and international partners scrambled to put spacewalks together to fix the cooling problem after it happened. Wheelock, himself a veteran of a tricky ammonia pump repair in 2010, communicated with the spacewalkers. Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide filled the other CapCom slot, helping Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata who handled robotics in orbit.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata controlled Canadarm2 during two spacewalks to replace a faulty ammonia pump in December 2013. Credit: NASA TV (screenshot)
Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata controlled Canadarm2 during two spacewalks to replace a faulty ammonia pump in December 2013. Credit: NASA TV (screenshot)

Mastracchio marked his eighth spacewalk with today’s repair while Hopkins, who rode Canadarm2 for the first time in a last-minute decision, was on his second. As with a spacewalk on Saturday (Dec. 21), the astronauts reported no helmet water leaks — comforting words for agency officials who put in new procedures and parts after an incident in July. (Mastracchio experienced a water problem during repressurization Saturday that was unrelated to the first incident, and wore a backup suit today to let the primary one dry out.)

Should the ammonia pump work as planned, this clears the way for the Russians to do a spacewalk Dec. 27 to install the Urthecast high-resolution camera that will beam live views of Earth, among other tasks. Expedition 38 has the day off tomorrow (Dec. 25), NASA TV added.

The only other Christmas Eve spacewalk in NASA history took place Dec. 24, 1999 during Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission STS-103. Another Christmas Eve milestone for NASA took place 45 years ago today, when the Apollo 8 crew made a now-famous broadcast while orbiting above the moon.

Can Astronauts Fix The Space Station In Two Spacewalks? Watch Live Tuesday To Find Out

Two astronauts are oh-so-close to fixing the International Space Station cooling system that shut down Dec. 11. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio will head “outside” on a spacewalk around 7:10 a.m. EST (12:10 p.m. UTC) to replace a faulty pump that led to the problem.

The spacewalkers were so quick on their first outing (on Saturday, Dec. 21) that they accomplished many of the tasks planned for their second spacewalk. They unhooked the first pump module and stowed it safely, then elected to wait until their second to retrieve the replacement pump, swap it in and turn it on.

Below the jump, here are some things to watch for — including why Hopkins is getting a ride on the Canadarm2 robotic arm this time instead of Mastracchio.

The suits. NASA has new safety procedures and measures in place to protect against helmet water leaks, and everything worked perfectly the first time. In an unrelated incident, while the astronauts were in the airlock, an inadvertent switch-throw introduced some water into Mastracchio’s sublimator. The suit is airing out and Mastracchio is wearing a backup suit. While sublimators need water to function, this water could have ended up in the wrong spot. If he had used the one with the water in it, it could have frozen during the second spacewalk and caused problems, Judd Frieling, the Expedition 38 lead flight director, explained on NASA TV Monday.

The background personnel. While it’s easy to shine the spotlight on the two guys outside, also remember that Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will be piloting the robotic arm under direction from CapCom and fellow Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide. Giving advice to the spacewalkers will be CapCom and NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, who did a similar repair on the International Space Station in 2010. As Wheelock told Universe Today, there are literally hundreds (likely, thousands) of people working the procedures to get this done.

The timeline. NASA really, really wants to wrap this repair up soon, and it’s not because of the holidays. Dec. 27 marks a planned spacewalk for the Russian side of the station that is totally unrelated to what is going on right now. The Americans are hoping they won’t disrupt the schedule so that the Russians can proceed with their experiment swapouts and foot restraint installation as originally planned.

Image above: Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock (right) and Tracy Caldwell Dyson work to replace a failed ammonia pump module outside of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV
Image above: Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock (right) and Tracy Caldwell Dyson work to replace a failed ammonia pump module outside of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

The robotic arm. Hopkins is a much more junior spacewalker than the experienced Mastracchio, who has seven spacewalks underneath his belt before today. Hopkins, who is on his first spaceflight, is in a situation where he can expect more flights in the future. So any training he can get in orbit would be fantastic as he would be a stronger asset on future missions. So, Mastracchio was supposed to ride the Canadarm2 on the second spacewalk, but at that time NASA anticipated it would take three to do the repair. Since the crew finished the work so swiftly, it’s likely only two will be needed. As such, giving Hopkins the slot would be the best practice, NASA and the crew determined.

The future pump move. NASA decided not to move the faulty pump from its temporary stowage location until later. Due to thermal conditions on station, it can stay in its temporary spot until June. This saves the spacewalkers extra work now, but someone will need to head outside by summer to move it to a more permanent location.

We’ll let you know how the spacewalk went.