Soon, we will not only be able to drink our recycled urine. We'll transform into a tastier, more refreshing beverage choice--thanks, in part, to NASA's final space shuttle mission.
The shuttle Atlantis, scheduled to launch today, is carrying aloft tests of the Forward Osmosis Bag, which is designed to convert dirty water into a liquid that is safe to drink using a semi-permeable membrane and a concentrated sugar solution. According to NASA, the FOB test "looks at the forward osmosis membrane in a space flight environment and compares its performance against ground reference controls." It's designed by principal investigator Howard Levine, Ph.D., and Michael Roberts, Ph.D.
This isn't the first time astronauts have sipped their own wee while they soared high above the Earth. But up until now, recycled-urine cocktails had been just chemically cleansed water. NASA scientists just wanted to see if astronauts could stomach it, period. The FOB is unique because it looks to turn human waste into something appealing and flavorful.
Essentially, the membrane allows water molecules to pass through while holding back bacteria, salts, proteins, and other impurities, in order to produce a delightful beverage--with a little help from that sugar flavor additive. And no, the water in treatment doesn't have to come from a human donor. It should work with any wastewater, NASA says, from humidity condensate to "technical water" (used for processes such as oxygen generation) to metabolic fluids including sweat and urine.
Still, there's a bitter taste of irony here as America essentially sends its space program down the drain. NASA has given us Tang, and now drinkable pee, but for the foreseeable future there will be a lot less to toast when it comes to the spectacular accomplishments that should be the life's blood of the space agency.