Wastes in Space--Wastewater Reuse on a Mars Mission

This month's National Geographic includes a fascinating section on Mars, and the challenges of sending people to land--and possibly live--on the planet.

Long-term missions in space are especially complex. And a most important requirement for the crew will be water. Interestingly, my October 2016 Water Environment and Technology magazine features a related article, "Out of this world toilets."

The author, Justin Jacques, describes research conducted through the Integrated Water Recovery Assembly Project (IRA), a joint venture between a Texas Tech University (TTU) research team and Paragon Space Development Corporation.

IRA recently received a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant to continue research of  ways to reuse nearly 100% of the astronauts' wastewater with minimal assistance from Mission Control. IRA is considering various biological treatment methods--aerobic and anaerobic--
combined with evaporation/condensation and a final polishing method to remove trace contaminants and recover the water.

While the basic technology involved may seem fairly common to those in the water industry--add the challenges of microgravity, lack of space, no room for redundancy, and the fact that the astronauts will be traveling 34 million miles from home--and it's not so easy.

The team is researching membrane applications, bioreactors and ways to streamline distillation. At the same time, TTU students have an amazing opportunity to learn while doing.

By the way, NatGeo channel has a series on Mars starting November 14, 2016.

Some may criticize the time and money spent on space missions, but I think exploration and discovery is in our blood. And by pushing the envelope, we develop new technologies that improve our environment and our life on earth.

What do you think?


  1. Donna:
    Well written piece. Very interesting. I agree with you that pushing the envelope sparks innovation and creativity.


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