Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Simple Space Pleasures

Space Station Urine Recycler

"Not to spoil anything, but I think up here the appropriate words are 'Yippee!',". This is an actual quote from the ISS, from space station Commander Mike Finck. 'Yippee' is a positive term, not one used very often with regards to space exploration. What, you may ask, has brought about this restrained jubilation that invokes the somewhat archaic term of 'Yippee'?

Have they discovered extra-terrestrial life? I, personally, think that would call for more than 'Yippee', assuming it's good alien life. If they've just stumbled upon a Borg Cube dwelling behind the moon, that would definitely not call for a yippee, or any celebratory term. Perhaps they've cracked the secret of faster than light travel, or teleportation. Again, yippee seems somewhat limited, even if they have only made some massive discovery in theory, and the practice is still to come.

So it must be something more mundane but still positive. Maybe they've finally managed to grow some carrots or get the filter coffee working (water doesn't boil the same way in zero gravity, something to do with the reduced pressure I'd guess, but knowing water it's probably something more surreal). Give up.

They've fixed the urine recycler. That's right, 'Yippee' is because people on board the ISS can now drink their own piss to their hearts content. Only in this situation would having to drink your own waste liquid be cause for celebration. And it's not just a 'yippee'. Here's some other quotes;

- "There will be dancing later," (mission controllers): So piss drinking is a cause for actual dancing too. Even if you factor in the difficulties of dancing in zero gravity, where even the most basic dance steps become hideously elaborate (imagine the Hokey Cokey in zero-g, you put your left arm in, all your other bits will go with it), dancing is done either in groups or with a partner. The confines of the ISS probably make dancing in groups very impractical, but there's only 3 people on board at any one time, so if dancing in pairs is opted for, some poor bugger will be left out every time. Maths, that is.

- "Urine passes Nasa taste test": Not sure if this is a BBC elaboration or a genuine NASA quote, but either way it's worrying. Taste test for urine? This implies that they've had times when urine hasn't passed the test. Is there a flavour scale for urine? How bad does urine have to be before it's recognised as unpleasant urine, by people who celebrate being able to drink it?

I'm being stupid of course. The machine recently fixed takes urine and other waste water and scrubs it thoroughly (with what? More water? Chemicals, I beleive, let's leave it at that). It actually "
distils, filters, ionises and oxidises" all water fed into it. I used to work with machines that sort of did that, not to the same scale degree of thoroughness, but close. We weren't supposed to drink from them, but I'd assume that's to do with taste, rather than actual hazards. How dangerous can utterly pure water be? It's like saying some air is dangerous because it's too fresh. Maybe our systems are more adapted to buggy tap water and anything without the background level sof chemicals would upset us, like when you go to Spain and you can't drink the 'hard' tap water because of the ionic content that screws up our weedy British systems. But if there's nothing there but pure H2O molecules, how could that be dangerous? It's probably not. This is moot anyway as I never drank any.

But those poor buggers on the ISS can celebrate their urine drinking future all they like (speaking of which, if the International Space Station is meant to represent all the countries involved in it's construction and maintenance, how much of an effective representation can 3 astronauts provide? I hope they're mixed race at least). If the water on this planet keeps getting used up, we'll come to depend on this technology. Unless of course they can get hold of one of those big Ice asteroids wandering around the solar system. Again, for such a thing to happen, we'll need to ISS to be involved. Here's hoping they keep up the good work. All that training and hard work and their reward is the opportunity to drink urine? It's not exactly a fine wine, is it. But if urine was a fine wine, what would you eat that would go with it?

Oh, God....

1 comment:

dave_hullo said...

Presumably the homeopaths think that NASA are creating the most powerful urine known to man

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