Wednesday, August 17, 2005


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

When the space shuttle was created it was viewed as a temporary compromise, a space truck that would trundle back and forth until we build better technology. This was all part of a future L-5 colony system that would be used to tap into the resources of the asteroids and the moon to build interstellar arks and to watch for asteroids and distant objects which might hit the earth.

With the present construction, now suspended, of the space station, the shuttle was used mindlessly, it seems. It is as if, locked into a schedule, they simply filled the hold. As this news service pointed out, the last trip which the media made out to be some sort of heroic journey, was really to be a garbage scow for the space station.

Here is another take on this from one of our readers, the always interesting Earl Bockenfeld. From Radio Weblogs:
NASA pisses away millions hauling H2O into orbit. But there's a better way - recycle astronaut urine. Just one question: How does it taste?
By Tom McNichol

People head to Reno for all sorts of reasons. Some want to gamble. Others are looking for a hasty wedding or quickie divorce. I've come to the Biggest Little City in the World to drink my own pee. Not straight up, of course. First, I'll run it through a new NASA water purification system that collects astronaut sweat, moisture from respiration, drain water, and urine - and turns it all into drinking water.

NASA desperately needs this technology. Water makes for a heavy - and expensive - payload. Over the past five years, the agency has spent $60 million delivering potable water to the International Space Station on the space shuttle (6 tons at a cost of about $40,000 per gallon). Deploying the Water Recovery System on the ISS will cut the volume of water hauled into space by two-thirds and free up enough room on the shuttle for four more astronauts.

I'm in Reno because this is the home of Water Security, a new company that is finding ways to use the NASA technology in extreme environments here on Earth. Company president Ray Doane can't wait to show me his magic box. "This is whiz-bang technology," he boasts, with an emphasis on the whiz.

Water Security has added a special filter to the NASA unit, creating a system that can scrub away 99.9 percent of all waterborne viruses, which could prove particularly useful in the developing world. The United Nations estimates that more than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and that 10 million die each year as a result of contaminated water supplies and inadequate sanitation.
This brings up a pet issue of mine: toilets. Toilets were re-invented by the British in London. Unlike the toilets people used back then, holes in the ground or compost heaps or in buckets collected by farmers who used it to fertilize fields, the new, "sanitary" method was to use water, which was cheap and plentiful in London at the time, and flush it directly into the Thames which became hideously polluted. All the old streams that flowed through London to the Thames were roofed over and turned into sewers. Now the polluted water is side tracked to great fields to be reprocessed but this isn't working because the modern medicines we piss now pollute the landscape and via water, is now destroying the ability to reproduce in all water creatures. One test last week in Italy found that traces of cocaine lingered in the water in huge amounts, quadruple the amount expected. Tests have found Prozac and birth control medicines in great quantities in water that fish and other animals struggle to live in.

There is no reason for this. If we all used compost toilets, we would have a fine time of it, more rich soils and no pollution. I have a garden that is boxed, namely, all the plants grow in long boxes above the ground to keep down weeds and to hold the rich soil in so it won't flow down the mountain and pollute the rivers in the valley.
The water filtration system allows NASA to solve two problems at once. It eliminates the gray water disposal issue and recycles urine into drinking water for the astronauts. The agency is testing the system at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama - where employees run on treadmills as their sweat, respiratory moisture, and urine are collected, cleansed and consumed.

Water Security has already begun putting the technology to work in areas where freshwater is in short supply. This summer, global relief agency Concern for Kids deployed a foot-powered purification unit in northern Iraq. Robert and Roni Anderson, Concern's founders, loaded it onto the back of a Toyota pickup and drove to dozens of villages to purify their groundwater. The unit pumps out 5 gallons per minute, and a single day of purification can sustain a village of 5,000 people for a month. The cost is about 3 cents a gallon. Iraqi water companies, by comparison, charge $4 a gallon.

It's not just war-torn regions that are short on potable water. After the tsunami hit Indonesia last December, much of the freshwater supply became contaminated with salt water and toxic street runoff. Kearney says the Water Security system is perfectly capable of working in such natural-disaster scenarios. After all, the technology was originally tested on an open sewage ditch in Jakarta and produced water that met Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Space ships are merely microcosms of our planet. As humans proliferate, we impact on the environment. Probably the most irritating thing on earth is the modern toilet spreading deep into desert lands. Much of America spends billions pumping water from far away only to flush it after polluting it, into the ground or downstream again. This extravegance, like our abuse of fossil fuels, is dangerous as well as plain stupid.

In my own home, I wanted to not use flush toilets and install compost toilets and at the time, it was illegal in NY to do this. Now we have changed the laws...but only somewhat. They still insist on the primacy of the water polluting methods!

Well, back to the space shuttle...right now, it goes up as a water bufallo and goes down a garbage scow and NASA is now considering shutting it down...before fixing the Hubble Space Telescope, which is, in my mind, the main reason for keeping this thing going in the first place. And as I predicted here months ago, yes, they are considering abandoning the space station for good! A multi-billion hole in the bucket.

This is dwarfed by the gaping hole in the bucket caused by our stupid wars. But that is another story.

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