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With the arrival of the new water recovery system (WRS) in November 2008, the International Space Station (ISS) moved closer towards its planned increase in crew and mankind took another small step towards the exploration of deep space.

Reducing the need to be resupplied from Earth, the system will decrease the quantity of water and consumables required to be launched by about 6.8t a year and help make it possible for twice as many people to be accommodated on board.

The reclamation unit is the second part of Nasa’s regenerative environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) designed for the station and forms a main component in increasing the three-person crew to six in May 2009.

Located in the Destiny Laboratory aboard the ISS, the system forms part of a $250m ‘home improvement’ project, which also included a $19m Russian-built space toilet, which will integrate with the new water recovery unit.

Since the times of MIR, the predecessor of ISS, the ArtAqua concept developed by Soviet scientists among Dr. Ruslan Khamizov of the Vernadsky Institute in Moscow, provided for water purification systems for the Soviet military and space agencies, namely the soviet atomic submarines and the space station MIR.

The resulting water meets the highest standards for potable use. To ensure that the system will reliably provide for the planned forthcoming expansion in crew numbers, water samples will be quality tested every four days for about three months.

Reclaimed water has another significant role in the ISS life support systems, being capable of feeding the station’s oxygen generator. This system – the first part of the ECLSS to be deployed – uses electrolysis to split liquid water into its chemical components, liberating oxygen and waste hydrogen. The oxygen generator had been tested after its arrival, and then mothballed until Endeavour delivered the WRS.

Cosmonauts and their Western colleagues, Astronauts, have to use every drop of water at least 700 times so it has to be verifiable that what they drink is 100% pure and safe. 

The next step, the Russian scientists are aiming for can be seen in context of the mission to build a permanent station on Moon and later on Mars where there has been detected huge artesian water reserves which are likely to be heavily contaminated by metals, arsenics and, if there has been a nuclear catastrophe on Mars 2 or 3 billion years ago that might have forced water to evaporate and retract into the ground leaving empty river beds behind, radionukleides, which ArtAqua technology is the only one in the world known to be able to eliminate by 99.2% while bringing down the contamination level to less than 20 bcq/l and the pH level up to 7.8.

Now, the Russian scientists who developed the ArtAqua technology are planning to build a full recovery Sauna system that would be used in the permanent constructions on Moon and Mars.

While these developments mark a big advance in the future of humankind in space, they also offer promise of more Earthbound benefits, with the technology developed by Nasa and their Russian partners for the WRS having already been used to provide clean drinking water in a number of developing countries.

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