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Waste of Space: A Look at Trash Drying and Water Extraction November 19, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in trash, Waste of Space, water.

There’s an article from the Cornell Chronicle over at SpaceRef.com about a subject that I see potentially balooning into one of the most problematic and important subjects of moon colonization: dealing with waste. So, welcome to the first edition of a new semi-regular feature series you’ll be seeing here: Waste of Space.

The Cornell article is a feature on a device that by drying, extracts all the water from the astronauts’ trash, thereby both avoiding a lot of trashy problems (stink, trash expansion after rot, etc.) and generating one of the most precious resources in space (by way of a water purifier).

An About.com article puts it best regarding the importance of water recycling to missions:

“Would Columbus have reached the New World if his ships could not carry enough water for their crews? Would Lewis and Clark have made it to the Pacific if they had no fresh water along the way?
-“NASA Advances Water Recycling for Space Travel and Earth Use“, by Nick Greene, About.com

Water is expensive to shuttle back and forth from space stations, nevermind all the way to the Moon, so any conservation and recycling you can get is golden.

The other aspect, and the one I see becoming of particular interest as lunar colonies (and especially, lunar mining operations) become more and more numerous, is dealing with waste disposal (or lack thereof) and reducing its bulk.

“In space, waste can’t simply be “thrown out.” If astronauts place it outside the airlock, it will orbit alongside their spacecraft. If they eject it away from the spacecraft, they might encounter it again later.”
-“What to do with rotten, smelly garbage when the nearest dumpster is 100 million miles away“, by Melissa Rice, the Cornell Chronicle

As that above picture from the Int’l Space Station demonstrates, trash buildup can get pretty bad in human space habitats (sometimes with spectacularly disastrous results), so this drying technology (being developed by Cornell professor Jean Hunter and the Wisconsin-based Orbital Technologies Corp.) will obviously be invaluable.

I could go on for some length about the severe problems a lot of trash generation from lunar colonies could create, but for now, I’ll leave that for future editions of Waste of Space.

Today, I close out with a golden quote by Jean Hunter, from the Cornell article:

“When people think about garbage in space, they remember the trash compactor scene from “Star Wars” — and believe it or not, there’s some truth to that scene,” Hunter said. “Trash in space is like you saw in the movie: big, wet, nasty and varied”.



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