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ESA New Experiment Will Improve Safety of Drinking Water in the International Space Station

Nov 24, 2016 03:53 AM EST
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Astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA) will perform an experiment that will improve the space station's water-testing methods, ESA said in a statement.

Water consumed by crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS) is recycled by up to 80 percent from their sweat, urine and other sources. Recycling reduces the number of supply missions and enables a self-sufficient spacecraft that is necessary for deep space missions. For this reason, flight surgeons and astronauts are closely monitoring the quality of the space station drinking water.

ESA's Aquapad experiment aims to simplify the regular water testing methods. Aquapad, a new approach developed by France's CNES space agency and French diagnostic company bioMérieux, consists of paper that is impregnated with powdered growth medium to create a 3D petri dish. When water is added, the microbes form colored spots that reveal their location.

Using a tablet app, Pesquet will photograph the spots to calculate the amount of bacteria present and to determine whether the water is safe to drink.

The device will use the Microbial Monitoring System (MMS) portion of the Water Monitoring Suite (WMS) experiment, which is a set of hardware that monitors microbes, silica and organic material in the space station's water supply, Spaceref reports.

The hardware ensures that the ISS crew can test and monitor the safety of their water supply especially on long-duration missions to Mars, asteroids or other deep space destinations where Earth-based testing would be difficult.

While Aquapad was developed for space, the technology behind the device could also be useful on Earth. For instance, the device could be used in disaster areas where water could be contaminated. A photograph and quick calculation are cheaper and faster than sending water samples to the laboratory, ESA said.

Thomas Pesquet and two other crewmembers - NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy - joined the Expedition 50 crew aboard the ISS on Saturday, two days after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

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