NASA Improves ISS Life Support System that Turns Pee into Drinking Water

The new upgrade will help astronauts travel to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Chris Young
An early version of the distillation assembly.NASA

Water is a scarce resource in space, and it's not easy to transport it from Earth. That's why the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) use state-of-the-art recycling technology that allows them to recycle sweat and even urine in order to reuse it as drinking water.

As NASA aims to land the next man and first woman on the Moon by 2024 with its Artemis program, the space organization has been working hard to upgrade the systems that will be crucial to these missions.


Preparing for the Moon, Mars and beyond

Recent observations of the urine processor that forms part of the ISS's water recovery system had revealed a few weak points in the system, NASA explained in a blog post.

"One of the most important things we've learned in the last 12 years of the hardware's orbital operation is that the hardware is vulnerable in its steam environment," said Jennifer Pruitt, project manager for the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS).

"We took those lessons learned and upgraded our urine distillation assembly to create a more reliable system equipped to travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond," she explained.

The upgrades are focused on internal redesigns; a new toothed belt drive system, bearing seals, Teflon spacer and liquid level sensor will all help to control the hardware's steam and fluid environment and provide the crew with the purest water possible.

Focusing on science, not hardware

"Improving the efficiency and reliability of the current system will diminish the need for an excess of spare parts on board," Pruitt said. "With less maintenance required, the crew can focus on the science at hand."

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With SpaceX soon to send astronauts aboard its Crew Dragon space capsule to the ISS, it's an exciting time for space travel. Alongside new upgrades to the space station, these developments are all part of ambitious plans aimed at getting humans out into the far reaches of our solar system.

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