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In Space, Yesterday's Coffee is Today's Coffee

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Do you still wish you could be an astronaut after watching the lung-flattening launches and bone-crunching landings? Has the eyeball-oscillating gimbal failed to dampen your spirits? What if we told you that coffee, the most precious of nectars essential for civilized behaviour, will be brewed from your own pee?


Astronauts Eric Boe [back left], Michael Finke [front left], Donald Pettit [back right] and Chris Ferguson [front right] brandishing pouches of coffee aboard the space station in 2008. Image credit: NASA

When every gram lifted into orbit costs a fortune, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” becomes more than just a trite saying. That covers everything, up to and including purifying liquid waste (ie, urine) into a more palatable beverage.

Or, to put it more bluntly: yesterday’s coffee is today’s coffee. Suddenly that coffee spot with the greatest view imaginable is looking a bit less appealing, even if the mechanics of making it happen is impressive engineering.



But recycling pee into water in space isn’t as easy as it is here on Earth. When the original Urine Processor Assembly went to the space station, it developed a “pee pancake,” a precipitate of that clogged up the system. The system needed to be modified to filter additional calcium ions: all that bone loss in microgravity resulted in astronauts peeing out double the normal concentration of calcium ions!

The Urine Processor Assembly during Earth-based lab tests. Image credit: NASA

Top image: Somehow the zero-gravity cup doesn’t make the foaming urine-coffee look more appealing. Credit: NASA

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