Astronauts to Recycle Urine for Drinking
Just in case of Tang shortage
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today and save 20 percent.
You know the saying “if it’s yellow, let it mellow,” right?
Environmentalists use it as a rallying cry to conserve water, pledging not to flush solely liquid waste. But what if we could actually recycle urine? Scientists think they might have found a way to do just that—and their plan to test it is literally out of this world.
Urine recycling has emerged to remedy one of the messier aspects of space travel. As we watch majestic YouTube videos of astronauts performing David Bowie tunes, we easily forget the brass tacks of space travel, one of which is the collection and disposal of waste. NASA already engineers its spacecraft and missions for maximum efficiency, but it’s always looking for ways to improve.
That’s where urine recycling comes in. In a new report published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, scientists analyze a fix that could kill two birds with one stone. Using a treatment process called forward osmosis, astronauts could purify their urine—previously jettisoned into space—into water, which usually has to be delivered from Earth at a high price.
Drinking water from urine isn’t the only thing these scientists have up their sleeves. The system they developed to separate urea from urine converts the substance to ammonia and then into energy.
Although the procedure was designed with space travel in mind, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how a technique to convert urine into energy and clean drinking water could drastically change life back here on Earth. So, you’re on notice, Al Gore: Start working on a new slogan to describe this convenient truth.