Astronauts have been able to drink their own (treated and filtered) urine for years, but scientists have managed to squeeze one more benefit out of an inevitable byproduct thanks to a new technique. Now, astronauts can use their urine to keep both their bodies and their spaceships running smoothly.
Currently, about half of an extended space mission's total waste can be chalked up to bodily functions, and sending water refills out into space from Earth is wildly expensive. Obviously, finding ways to recycle human waste is key. Now, instead of the massive, clunky distillers previously in use, NASA uses a treatment process called forward osmosis, as seen in the video below.
Still, turning urine into water is no new feat. What's particularly innovative about this method, though, is that it's also able to convert the urea extracted from the urine into ammonia by using a bioreactor. This ammonia could then be converted into energy by combining it with fuel cells.
Astronauts aren't the only ones with the potential to benefit though. According to NASA's team at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, "the results showed that the UBE system could be used in any wastewater treatment systems containing urea and/or ammonia." Sure, the idea of living off our own waste might make people a little squeamish, but hey — it worked for Kevin Costner. [EurekAlert via Red Orbit]