The history of the Russian and American space programs has been a fraught one. But since the Space Race, when the Soviet Union and America strove to outdo each other in space-based technological prowess, relations between the two teams have improved significantly, even to the point they now cohabit the International Space Station (ISS).
But it appears one thing the two countries still can’t agree on is the necessity to drink their own urine.
The crew aboard the ISS had previously depended on water shuttled to the craft via cargo rockets, until a system was implemented in 2003 consisting of a distiller and an assortment of filters designed to process the astronauts' urine and sweat into clean drinking water. With this system in place, they are able to produce 2,700 kilograms (6,000 pounds) of water per year, which means the station can host six crew members instead of three.
The need for a water recycling system became apparent when a series of cargo spacecraft containing vital supplies failed to reach the ISS. With this system in place the station is more self-sustainable, and is classed as its own self-contained environment.
The ISS has two water filtration systems in place, one that the Americans use, and one the Russians use. The Russians use silver to disinfect their water, whereas the Americans use iodine. However due to iodine needing to be filtered from the water supply, NASA has reportedly decided to switch over to silver-ionized water on future missions. But although the Russians also recycle their sweat and condensate from the air, they flat out refuse to drink recycled urine – something that is done on the U.S. side.
Although many of you may cringe at the prospect of drinking your own urine, Bob Bagdigian, the Environmental Control Life Support System project manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, is happy with the quality. “The water that we produce meets or exceeds most municipal water product standards,” he told Nasa.gov.
Layne Carter, water subsystem manager for the ISS, agreed. “It tastes like bottled water, as long as you can psychologically get past the point that it’s recycled urine and condensate that comes out of the air.” Carter told Bloomberg:
Astronaut Chris Hadfield explains in the following video that they reclaim 93% of water aboard the ISS, including shower water, sweat, urine and – wait for it – the urine of the experimental rats that also live aboard the ISS. They occasionally even use the Russians' urine too.
Would you drink your friends' urine and shower run-off – even if it had been through rigorous purification?
[H/T: The Guardian]