Space walkers will drink their own urine, dammit
The six man, all male crew of the Shuttle docked with the space station on Wednesday, and will be spending Thanksgiving up in space eating freeze dried turkey, no doubt. They're expected to go for a walk, a space walk, at least three times during their 11 day stay. But, it isn't all fun and strolls up in space.
This is the last hurrah for the Shuttle program which is being retired at the end of this year (UPDATE: the Shuttle program is being retired at the end of next year). The existing mission will, however, do enough to keep the space station operational beyond the Shuttle's demise. And yes, chief amongst the objectives is waste management. And no, NASA doesn't seem to be perturbed by the thought that First Contact may come with the requisite ET retort, "Dudes, you drink your own crap?!"
Alex Pasternack on The Huffington Post has a lot of interesting things to say about urine recycling in his coverage of the mission:
"Not only do astronauts now have to drink their own pee, but they have to put up with all sorts of toilet problems. (God, they can't even call it a toilet -- it's the "Waste and Hygiene Compartment.") When the station's urine disposal system stopped turning pee into water earlier this year, the previous shuttle had to carry up supplies to fix it."
"When we do finally get to setting up shop on the moon and Mars, urine recycling will be crucial. By filtering urine (but also sweat and any other liquid) through a series of chemical processes and filters, astronauts will be saved from having to lug tons of water bottles up to space, which take up lots of weight. NASA has said the urine recycler would reduce the amount of consumables needed on board the space station by as much as 6,800 kilograms per year, or one African elephant."
For more updates on the mission as it progresses there is nowhere better than NASA itself.