NASA scientists are testing water treatment technology that would allow astronauts to convert both sweat and urine into drinkable water. Employees at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have begun a six-week trial of the latest water treatment equipment in hopes it will allow missions to the moon and later Mars to be extended without the expense of launching resupply ships. The new system, called the Exploration Water Recovery System, is a combination of air- and water-purification technologies designed to squeeze every last drop of water from physical activity and bodily functions.
For the study, 20 employees exercise an hour a day on treadmills, rowing machines and other equipment to generate water vapour through perspiration and respiration. Individuals also donate urine as part of the test. NASA is scheduled to install a Russian-built toilet system that can turn urine into drinking water on the International Space Station. The toilet, which costs $19 million US, will be delivered to the station in 2008. NASA's research is part of the space agency's larger plan to establish a permanent settlement on the moon by the year 2024. It's a challenge, said exploration life support project manager Monsi Roman, because the moon lies over 360,000 kilometres away.