Researchers at the University of Utah devised a new on-the-spot testing method for water quality and recently the technology found its way into the hands of astronauts stationed on the International Space Station.
The new test, which only takes about two minutes to complete, is reportedly able to identify perils associated with poorly treated water, though the chances of some reaching the ISS are extremely small. The new technique developed at the UU has just begun a six-month trial period aboard the ISS. “Now they bring water back on the space shuttle and analyze it on the ground. The problem is there is a big delay. You’d like to be able to maintain iodine or silver [disinfectant] levels in real time with an onboard monitor,” UU Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Marc Porter explains.
According to its developers, the new method is simple, effective and cheap. Water is sampled from the galley aboard the ISS, and then forced by a syringe to pass through a chemically imbued disk. The membrane modifies its color depending on the chemicals inside the water. The differences between the original hues and the new ones can be read with a commercially available color sensor, such as the one regularly used to assess the brightness and glossiness of car paint.
“Our focus was to develop a small, simple, low-cost testing system that uses a handheld device, doesn’t consume materials or generate waste, takes minimal astronaut time, is safe and works in microgravity,” Porter adds. Another bright side of the new technique is that it is currently being adapted for use back on Earth as well, where it could detect dangerous arsenic concentrations in drinking water. This type of tests could come in handy in places such as the US and Bangladesh, where the arsenic concentration is something to be reckoned with. ( source )
As the article stated, the odds of contaminated water ever reaching the space station in the first place are slim to none, but picture, if you will, a person floating around in near-zero gravity either throwing up all over the place or trying desperately to hold in explosive diarrhea… and you will quickly understand the importance of clean drinking water in space.
“So how does this help ME keep my drinking water clean and pure?”