Stay on target
Scientists have a lot of problems to solve before we’re finally ready to rocket into deep space. As with your upcoming Thanksgiving travel, one of those problems has to do with packing efficiently.
You don’t want to overpack for an interplanetary voyage, so a lot of attention is given to finding ways to cut back on provisions. That includes survival essentials like food and water. Fortunately, NASA has a system that saves space by recycling one of those things.
It’s water, of course, and they reclaim it by processing astronauts’ urine. They don’t get to brew up delicious beers with it or anything, but at least their fancy space-age Brita (which they actually refer to as the Urine Processor Assembly) can convert around 75% of their urine into potable water.
Ultimately NASA hopes to get the UPA’s efficiency up to around 90%. If you’re expelling the average of between .8 and 2L of urine a day, that’d be a whopping .72 to 1.8L the UPA would return as drinking water.
If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, consider what that means at scale. A 737 can carry upwards of 215 passengers. On a spaceflight with a similarly-sized craft, then, we’re talking about reclaiming an average of around 270 liters of water every day.
It’s easy to see why being able to efficiently process urine is so important to extended spaceflight. That’s a huge volume of water that doesn’t have to be loaded onto a spacecraft before blast-off, which means more room for important things astronauts bring into space like Lego minifigs, NASCAR flags, and replica lightsabers.