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NASA: All systems go for space urine recycling system

After five days of ill-fated attempts, International Space Station (ISS) astronauts today ran two successful tests of equipment on board designed to turn urine, sweat and moisture from the air into drinking water, NASA.gov reports. NASA now must decide whether the contraption, deemed essential for hydration of future astronauts traveling farther out into space, should return with the space shuttle Edeavour on Sunday or remain on the ISS for further testing,  according to the Associated Press.

After some tinkering (including installation of new support brackets to secure the system's centrifuge) by station commander Mike Fincke and shuttle mission specialist Don Pettit, the Urine Processor Assembly (part of the station's new Water Recovery System), successfully finished a full five-hour run, Space.com reported today. The astronauts successfully operated the system again three hours later after it cooled down. The $154 million water recycling system is part of a $250 million regenerative life support system designed to sustain larger space station crews with fewer supply drop-offs from visiting spacecraft, Space.com reports; the first six-person crew (currently there are only three astronauts on board at a time when there isn't a visiting spacecraft) is due to arrive at the orbiting lab next May.

The space agency even added a 16th day to the astronauts' mission in the hope they could get the urine processor flowing smoothly. Last week, the water-and-urine recycling system malfunctioned during four tests, including one in which the processor shut itself down after running for only two hours and another in which it triggered an alarm on the space station.

Crew members today are transferring materials set to return to Earth from the station to the Endeavour.

If all goes well, water made from recycled urine will be added to the menu during extended space missions, alongside astronaut cuisine cooked up by food scientists in the Space Food Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, who have been trying to spice up space fare.

(Image courtesy of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center)

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