The water drunk by astronauts on the International Space Station is recycled by up to 80% from their sweat, urine and other sources. Recycling reduces the number of supply missions needed to run the Station, and building a self-sufficient spacecraft will be necessary for future mission farther from our planet.
Flight surgeons and astronauts closely monitor the quality of the drinking water and the Aquapad experiment that ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will run in space aims to simplify the regular testing.
Aquapad is a new approach developed by France’s CNES space agency and French diagnostic company bioMérieux: paper impregnated with powdered growth medium creates a 3D petri dish. When water is added, the microbes form coloured spots revealing their locations.
Using a tablet app, Thomas will photograph the dots to calculate precisely how many bacteria are present and whether the water is safe to drink.
Although developed for space, the technology behind Aquapad is clearly useful on Earth. For example, in disaster areas, where water could be contaminated, a quick picture and calculation are cheaper and faster than sending samples to a laboratory.