When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? A rock star? A firefighter? A flight attendant?
How about an astronaut? That’s a popular ambition.
As a NASA-loving youngster you probably anticipated the thrill of blasting off into space, the giddiness of bouncing around in your gravity-free space station, the practicality of brushing your teeth with your own sweat.
Wait, what? Gross.
Oh, so bathing with fuel cell moisture and drinking condensed rat breath weren’t part of the plan? (I probably just lost half of our readers.)
If that made you a little squeamish, be glad your outer space ambitions didn’t pan out. Lacking a convenient local water source, those crafty ol’ NASA scientists have been recycling every drop of moisture aboard the International Space Station for years. Their water recycling system literally reclaims wastewater from fuel cells, oral hygiene, hand washing, air humidity, as well as the breath, sweat and urine from crew members and research animals.
Run all that gook through a fancy purification machine and voila! It’s ready to be used all over again. Sound pretty gross but this recycled spacewater is cleaner than what most people on Earth drink.
So I just have to ask, if it’s good enough for our astronauts why isn’t wastewater recycling good enough for the rest of us?
Mention toilet-to-tap, wastewater recycling, or anything to do with reusing sewage and you just might start a panic. Poop! Chemicals! Pharmaceuticals! Won’t our boys turn into girls, our dogs turn into fish, our fish turn into dinosaurs?!
Well no. (Although I’m secretly hoping for the fish-to-dinosaurs option.) But our previously useless sewage will turn into clean water that’s perfectly potable and safe for drinking.
Unlike our astronaut heroes whose waste is simply run through a machine before coming back out of the tap, we benefit from being Earth-bound; our water is purified by science then purified by nature then purified by science again before we ever have to drink it. After being treated by traditional methods, waste is sent to an advanced purification facility where it’s treated to drinking standards, then on to your local reservoir where it mingles with other water sources for some good old fashioned natural purification, then eventually back to a final treatment plant where it’s treated to drinking standards again.
Now doesn’t that sound sparkly clean? Astronauts should be jealous.
What do you think, do you love the idea of a renewable water source or hate the idea of drinking second-hand water? (By the way, all water is second-hand.) Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @MarGoH2O
Additional resources and facts about toilet to tap: