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Final space shuttle mission testing system to turn urine into a sports drink


July 11, 2011

Filling of Forward Osmosis Bag outer partition with 'dirty' solution from the Input Storag...

Filling of Forward Osmosis Bag outer partition with 'dirty' solution from the Input Storage Bag using the Forward Osmosis Pump Syringe (Image: Monica Soler/NASA)

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Atlantis may have taken off on the last ever space shuttle mission last week but that doesn't mean it has finished racking up firsts. Along with ferrying its last batch of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), Atlantis is also carrying a urine recycling system that is designed to convert astronaut's urine into a sports drink. The Forward Osmosis Bag (FOB) system will reportedly be tested by one of the four-man crew towards the end of the shuttle's 12-day mission.

Although the ISS already has a urine-recycling machine that produces clean reclaimed water from urine using a distillation process to remove impurities, the system consumes valuable power from the station's limited supply. In contrast, the FOB system doesn't rely on any direct energy input as it relies on osmotic pressure to draw solution from a lower concentration to a solution with higher concentration. It uses a semi-permeable membrane that allows small molecules such as water to pass through while blocking larger molecules like salts, sugars, starches, proteins, viruses, bacteria and parasites.

Forward Osmosis Bag (Image: Monica Soler/NASA)

Forward osmosis systems have already been used on Earth by soldiers but the final space shuttle mission will be the first time such a system has been tested in the zero gravity environment of space. Its performance will be compared to that of similar systems used on the ground, which produce around a liter of drinkable fluid in around four to six hours.

Although the system is designed to work with urine and sweat - or just about any dirty water - the Atlantis crew won't be using their own urine but will instead be testing it using an experimental fluid. After the fluid passes through the semi-permeable membrane it will be combined with a sugary solution to produce a sports drink-like fluid.

The applications for such technology in space include incorporating a small forward osmosis device into EVA suits to recycle sweat and urine and provide drinkable fluids on extended space walks. It could also be used to extend the non-potable resources on the ISS in the event that a resupply vehicle is delayed, or as a space- and weight-saving method of providing returning crews with fluids using seawater after a splashdown.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

urine sports drink! almost as tasteful as my day tomorrow firing a lazy two hour lunch employee who leaves at 3, oh joy

Bill Bennett
11th July, 2011 @ 10:38 pm PDT

Welcome to NASA.

Follow your dreams

See the world

Reach for the stars

Drink piss.

12th July, 2011 @ 12:20 am PDT

I feel sorry for the astronaut who draws the short straw! Or maybe he will need a long straw. I can' say I have tried one, but I would imagine that sports drinks taste like piss with added sugar(it's the mineral salts!)

12th July, 2011 @ 07:30 am PDT

I thought this was already sold here on Earth as Powerade?

12th July, 2011 @ 08:20 am PDT

ah the power of marketing. they all have a funny taste as tho urine related.i've tasted one or two. know what the sucker wants to be or look like and sell him anything.

Cowfy Kaufman
12th July, 2011 @ 12:12 pm PDT

Urine or you're out! With all that empty space around them, why not try a vacuum distillation system?

Gregg Eshelman
12th July, 2011 @ 04:47 pm PDT

Ahhh haaa haaaaa - it's the same as shit Australian factory beer.

Fosters, Tooheys or XXXX anyone?

Naaaaa I think I will drink my own piss - it's healthier.

Mr Stiffy
12th July, 2011 @ 08:51 pm PDT

While it seems a good way of reclaiming water, this drink does not cure acute dehydration.

As a rule of thumb, you must at least drink as much clear water as sports drinks in order to maintain osmotic balance in your blood.

The sugars will eventually be absorbed by the liver, and in the long run be converted into more water plus CO2.

13th July, 2011 @ 06:23 am PDT

Title: "Final space shuttle mission testing system to turn urine into a sports drink." Article: "...the Atlantis crew won't be using their own urine but will instead be testing it using an experimental fluid." Therefore, the title is deceptive at best.

John Gochnauer
13th July, 2011 @ 04:06 pm PDT

The shuttle Atlantis has just arrived after a quick voyage to the ISS, bringing the space shuttle program to an end. Until a brand new space automobile is ready to be used by NASA, it definitely won't be able to send up any astronauts on its own. The Russian space agency will have to be the only source of space transport for the time being. Here is the proof: Last shuttle flight ends as Atlantis lands. So now that the final space shuttle mission has ended, can you now give us the result of the test? If not yet, well, it's fine for us to wait for the that but I think that idea should be studied very well despite the fact that it might harm its future consumers.

26th July, 2011 @ 12:38 am PDT
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