Something especially green yet undeniably unusual has been happening far above your head. So high in the sky, in fact, that to witness the eco-spectacle firsthand you’d have to soar past the upper atmosphere in a spacecraft. Upon climbing 226 miles, you’ll be able to see firsthand exactly what all of the hubbub is about when you explore the International Space Station (ISS), a sprawling $100-billion low-earth orbit research facility located on the world’s largest artificial satellite, weighing more than 330 automobiles, or 925,000 pounds! Circling the earth roughly 15.7 times each day at a speed of 17,239.2 miles per hour, the ISS (and anything attached to our international space exploration project, for that matter) doesn’t immediately conjure up warm and toasty eco-fuzzies. Someone is to blame for the approximately 370,000 pieces of space junk continually circling our planet, and you can probably guess precisely what entity deserves the majority of the finger shaking. (Geek bonus: Remarkably, you can track space trash from the comfort of your own computer chair.) NASA, notorious for its waste-chucking ways, has actually proposed to right this monumental wrong simply by aiming a massive laser at the slew of metal scraps cluttering the sky, which would move the wayward garbage away from spacecraft and satellite orbits rather than incinerating it. Meanwhile, the organization has been diligently working on a far more effective eco-effort that makes the most of one of our planet’s most precious and increasingly dwindling commodities: water reclamation. Space station residents truly grasp the necessity of living as sustainably as possible since water doesn’t just conveniently materialize for them — approximately 10,000 pounds of H2O must be shipped every year (per astronaut) at great expense and inconvenience. Consequently, the ECLSS water recycling system, which cost a whopping $250 million to create, was developed as a way to literally squeeze the most liquid out of sources that were previously untapped. Think domestic greywater resulting from bathing and hand-washing activities, laundry water, humidity harvesting, fuel cell condensation, perspiration and, well, human urine. Oh, that last one sounds like a doozy of a thing to make our dedicated space scientists guzzle once again, and yet, when subjected to a multilayered filtration process involving impurification extraction, bacteria-torching catalytic oxidation and iodine injection (which blasts microbes), the liquid is amazingly restored to its former clear and refreshing glory. Meaning that the waste products of on-board laboratory animals will ultimately be squeaky clean, too! At least in this manner, they’re definitely cleaning up their eco-cred, and yet the drop doesn’t stop there. Research scientists who live and work on the ISS make a habit of practicing daily water conservation with the precious, recycled liquid that they use over and over again. Astronauts actually use just one-tenth of water that their fellow earthlings do, which, for example, translates into 4 liters per sponge bath (rather than 50 liters for the average shower). Despite the widespread psychological phobia of consuming something that was once a bona fide waste product, it is apparently a dead ringer for the real deal in both taste and appearance, at least according to a NASA rep. Even if you’re crinkling your nose in disgust, the fresh, clean water that flows from your very own tap was likely exposed to wildlife waste products prior to being filtered; hey, it’s hard to keep ducks and other opportunistic critters away from great big, impossibly alluring holding tanks! It just goes to prove that with the right equipment, unwelcome and seemingly gross compounds can be removed from just about anything. So, have you had your eight glasses today? What are you waiting for, fill ‘er up!
NASA Going to Great Lengths to Recycle Water
How is water conserved high above our heads at the International Space Station? The tactics may shock you!