Light show caused by astronaut urine

A sparkly glow in the sky on Wednesday night was actually astronaut piss. The space shuttle Discovery dumped urine and waste water into space after undocking from the International Space Station. Apparently, it's not uncommon to see water dumps in space from Earth. From Space.com (photo by Abe Megahed):
 F 52 827 1D Www.Space.Com Images 090911-Urine-02 The light show Wednesday was aided by an unusually large amount of water being dumped all at once - about 150 pounds (68 kg), said NASA spokeswoman Kylie Clem. Discovery had just undocked from the International Space Station the day before, and had not been able to unload waste water during the 10-day visit...

Abe Megahed, photographed the tail at 9:40 p.m. EDT (0140 GMT) Wednesday from Madison, Wisconsin.

"I just watched the shuttle and station flyover (8:40 PM CST 9/9/09) and was surprised to see that the shuttle was sporting a massive curved plume," he wrote. "What could it be? Something venting? An OMS burn? RCS thrusters? A massive, record breaking urine dump?"
"Mystery Explained: Glow in Night Sky Was Astronaut Urine"

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  1. They spend all that money to get the water up there, and then they dump it? That really IS waste water. I’d think that they would recycle it. Funny how in the article they talk about not wanting to contaminate the Kibo module, Kibo is what we used to call outhouses.

  2. @Midknyte: I would assume so. The pee cloud orbit would decay for the same reasons that the ISS orbit decays.

    However, if I might presume to guess at the implication behind your question*, there is no shortage of water on Earth, per se, and those amounts would be totally insignificant if lost. Most of the planet is covered with it a few miles deep, as you may have noticed. Water shortages are a huge problem (and will become moreso as the climate changes), but it’s not related to the amount of water on Earth, it’s the amount of fresh, unpolluted water in specific regions.

    *My second guess is that you don’t want to be peed on from space.

  3. John Glenn famously described seeing ‘fireflies’ keeping pace with his craft. When Mission Control figured out that what he and later astronauts were seeing was actually droplets of jettisoned urine, the ‘fireflies’ were rechristened Constellation Urion. There’s a good post about it at 365 Days of Astronomy (http://bit.ly/C0bS8).

    Hawkwind fans will know Glenn’s description as the recording that accompanies the instrumental “The Phenomenon of Luminosity”.

  4. I’m amazed that they still dump it out. Haven’t they been working on water reclamation for years? Is it really that difficult to figure out how to sanitize it?

    Water is heavy, and lifting it up into space every time someone goes up must have added millions of dollars to NASAs launches over the decades.

    (They could also just use it to grow tomatoes abort the space station.)

  5. I’d guess the issue is they’ve never gone to the trouble of designing (and building, and hoisting up into orbit) a way to get that waste-water from the shuttle into the space station where the recycler is. Didn’t they just install the recycler on the ISS a couple missions ago?

    But yeah, other than that, it would seem worth it to keep water available once they’ve gone to the trouble of getting it up there.

  6. I’d guess the issue is they’ve never gone to the trouble of designing a way to get that waste-water from the shuttle into the space station where the recycler is.

    You mean the astronauts can’t just carry it over in buckets when they dock?

  7. 17 comments about a space station dumping garbage and not a single Millennium Falcon reference? What is this place coming to?

  8. They should bottle that stuff and sell it! If old Chinese buy bear bladders for boners, then computer geeks would chug space piss.

  9. I guess I’m the only one whose first thought was:

    “Your Majesty is like a stream of bat’s piss.”

    “You shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.”

  10. SamSam #9:

    I’m amazed that they still dump it out. Haven’t they been working on water reclamation for years? Is it really that difficult to figure out how to sanitize it?

    They’ve been doing it on the space station. The shuttle presumably doesn’t stay up long enough to make it worthwhile. You have to pay for every bit of weight you take back from space too, you know…

  11. what happens when you meet a drop of piss going 30,000 MPH? This could be a secret mission to wipe out Chinese satellites with yellow pearls.

  12. re: angusm – Wow, extra points for mentioning both one of the sillier historical facts about early space exploration, *and* one of my fave bands, Hawkwind!!! THANK YOU!

  13. Urine is (just recently) recycled on the ISS. Urine is not recycled on the Shuttle as the equipment to do so would likely weigh much more than the water, take up precious space, etc. And much of the fresh water on the shuttle is produced as “waste” from the fuel cells, so there’s not much need to conserve it. I presume when the Shuttle is docked with ISS the Shuttle crew continues to use Shuttle toilet facilities for convenience and probably due to waste handling limitations of the ISS equipment.

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