Water is one of the most critical needs that astronauts have in space. They need it for everything from food preparation to consumption or personal hygiene. The process through which astronauts in space get water is a very complicated one, but as complicated as it is, it is even more interesting.
If there is any area of our modern society in which recycling and reusing what we have, without doubt, that must be on our Space vehicles, whether it be the International Space Station or any of our Space Shuttles. The things we have learned from the research and practices on board both the International Space Station and the Shuttles should help NASA come up with even better and more sophisticated systems for conserving and reusing water in the post Shuttle space age.
The fact that NASA has come up with a way through which the Space Shuttle can actually make water is nothing short of ingenious. The greater significance, however, is that because the design of the Shuttle is such that water can be made from the fuel cells, there is no longer a need to carry the water up to space as once was necessary. This is not just an eco friendly approach to acquiring water; it is also a fuel saver for the Shuttle because there isn't the added weight of the 90 pound bags of water.
HOW THE SPACE SHUTTLE MAKES WATER -
Water on board a Space Shuttle is actually made from a mixture of liquid oxygen and hydrogen, both of which are contained in the Shuttle's fuel cells. Those fuel cells are capable of producing as much as twenty five pounds of water each hour.
FILTRATION AND SEPARATION -
Once the oxygen and hydrogen make that water, it then passes from the fuel cells into a hydrogen separator. The water will then go through the hydrogen separator so that any residual hydrogen gas that might be trapped can be removed. The excess hydrogen gas is then dumped over board.
STORAGE OF WATER -
The remainder of the water that has had any excess hydrogen removed is then stored in four water storage tanks that are located in the Shuttle's lower deck. Before the astronauts can get drinking water, however, it must be filtered so that any or all microbes can be removed.
Once all of the microbes have been removed, the water can then be either heated or chilled. Water that is to be heated will go through the Shuttle's various heat exchangers. The heat exchanger that the water goes through will depend on the intended use - food preparation, consumption or personal hygiene. Any excess water that is produced by the fuel cells then gets routed to a waste water tank.
THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION -
Until fairly recently, any water on board the International Space Station got there because it had been lugged there from Earth. Over the last several years, NASA developed the ECLSS (Environmental Control and Life Support System,) at the MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.) The Vapor Compression Distillation Experiment was conducted on board STS 107 in 2003. That was the Columbia mission that exploded over Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana.
RECYLING URINE -
The results of that experiment proved that it would be possible to install an operational urine processor on board the International Space Station. This technology would decrease the Space Station's reliance on the water that had to be continually resupplied from Earth. As of November 2008, the International Space Station got a new and sophisticated water recovery system. This system takes urine and combines it with condensation to turn it into fresh drinking water.
MAKING WATER IN SPACE -
The answer then, to where the astronauts in space get water, is that they either get it by making it through the process of turning liquid oxygen and hydrogen that are taken from the Shuttle's fuel cells into water. On the International Space Station, there is a processor on board that is capable of turning urine and condensation into fresh drinking water. This is how and where astronauts get their water from while they are in space.