Project Urion

Project Urion

Project Urion

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 16 2008 1:25 PM

Project Urion

When I worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, I was always aware it was a government facility. They check ID when you enter, you have to wear a badge, there were rules for dealing with civil servants (I was a private contractor, so I couldn't pay for a civil servant's lunch, for example, which was weird because these were my friends and colleagues). When the Center renovated the building we joked that they were going to install drug detectors in the urinals (like in the movie "Robocop")...

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

... but the joke is now on the folks at Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA wants their urine! It's not for drug testing, though (that's a relief!). Pee is a bit of a problem on long-duration space flights (or on the surface of the Moon). It needs to be recycled as much as possible; water is very heavy and difficult to transport. Eventually, too, the stored up urine needs to be dumped somehow. It contains solids and dissolved minerals that can, um, gum up the works of the machinery that processes it. Now that NASA is committed to going back to the Moon, more work needs to be done in this area, new devices designed and tested.

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NASA could make their own simulated liquid waste to do this, of course, but that struck the engineers there as silly, given that this is one thing pretty much anyone can make at home.

So they put out a call. For pee.

They need a lot: 30 liters a day! That's quite a data stream. Employees can volunteer to do the cup thing and donate their used drinks to NASA and to the future exploration of the Moon. If I worked there I'd do it; it's not a big deal, just a wee effort. It's also the patriotic thing to do -- think of it as discharging your duties -- and what other chances do you get to say that you literally contributed to space exploration?

Besides, I was always something of a whiz kid.