NASA has announced that the first astronauts to survive in orbit by drinking their own recycled urine will meet their public on live TV next Wednesday.
Four of the six members of the planned Expedition 20 crew for the International Space Station (ISS) will give a media briefing, according to the space agency. Expedition 20 will, says NASA "usher in an era of six-person crews" for the orbiting outpost. The briefing will be shown live on NASA TV.
Previously the ISS has had permanent crews of only three, occasionally supplemented by visiting Shuttle or Soyuz crew, multimillionaire space tourists and so on. The limited numbers, according to NASA, were imposed primarily by the need to ship drinking water up to the station on supply flights.
But now the ISS has been equipped with a high-tech bank of machinery able not only to harvest and recycle drifting sweat from the station's atmosphere, but also the astronauts' urine.
The four international orbital adventurers who will meet press and public on Wednesday to introduce the glorious new era of recycled-piss beverage spacefaring are:
Roman Romanenko, Soyuz spacecraft commander, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Russian cosmonaut.
Frank DeWinne of Belgium, Expedition 20 flight engineer and Expedition 21 commander (the first European Space Agency astronaut to command the station).
Robert Thirsk, Expedition 20 and 21 flight engineer and Canadian Space Agency astronaut.
Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 and 21 flight engineer and NASA astronaut.
The machine which will permit the brave new golden dawn of six-astronaut crewing is the Urine Processor Assembly, a specially-designed keg-shaped affair combining the functions of lavatory, centrifuge and distillery. It was initially a trifle (cough) can-tankerous when sent into orbit aboard the shuttle Endeavour last November. First it triggered a fire alarm, then it repeatedly shut itself down - defying the efforts of thirsty astronauts, working on their break in some cases, to get it running.
At one point, the cup of victory was as it were rudely dashed from the lips of space station commander Michael Fincke, who had wrestled with the recalcitrant astro-plumbing for hours only to have it pack up after just three hours and a measly half a gallon of piss.
Fincke, showing the pluck which has given the US Air Force the reputation it deservedly enjoys today (he is a USAF colonel and test flight-engineer) took a glass-is-half-full view of the matter.
"That's a third of a tank right there," said the colonel, no doubt smacking parched lips at the thought.
The problem in essence was that the spinning golden barrel would wobble excessively on its, ah, dampeners, causing excessive sloshing of its potentially life-nourishing contents.
In the end though, American spunk and "can-do" spirit won through. The hard-grafting space aces, following instructions from a team of top NASA piss-extraction experts on the ground, managed to sort out the golden barrel wobble/slosh issue by rigidly bolting the whole affair to its frame.
Following detailed analysis of the UPA's product, NASA and the Russian space agency are planning to send up double crews to the ISS, happy that they will be able to survive on a steady diet of self-sourced beverages.
As the space shuttle fleet nears retirement, NASA looks likely to be dependent for some years on Russian Soyuz ships for access to the space station, a situation which has caused concern to some in America. But the politically embattled space agency is happy to announce that in one field of space technology at least, the USA remains supreme.
Although Russia’s space station Mir recycled cosmonaut’s sweat, the NASA recycler is the first to be flown in space that intends to cleanse and reuse almost all the water a crew member produces.
Ha! Take that, Vladimir Putin. Although really, it's no more than mother nature/the water company does for us all down here. ®