Israeli water purification device returns to Earth

Atlantis’ tested out new system to avoid dumping water into space; device has already been installed in places with water purification challenges.

water purification device on atlantis_311 (photo credit: NASA)
water purification device on atlantis_311
(photo credit: NASA)
Among the passengers aboard the Atlantis space shuttle’s final voyage was an Israeli biomedical water purification device, which was undergoing initial tests for use in zero-gravity, outer space conditions.
The device, which contains technology that effectively removes bacteria and viruses from polluted water, was developed by a research team headed by Eran Schenker, an aerospace physician and director of the Aerospace Medicine Research Center at the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, in collaboration with Haim Wilder, vice president of research and development of Strauss Water, and Prof. Eyal Shimoni, chief scientist of Strauss Group.
The goal for space operations, Wilder told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is to be able to recycle 100 percent of water used and polluted by astronauts during their missions.
“It may be possible that in the near future, astronauts will not have to throw contaminated water into space,” Schenker said in a statement, referring to current procedures, in which all used water must be dumped into space.
After lifting off on July 8 for its final journey into space, the Atlantis landed on Thursday.
During the mission the astronauts were able to test out the Israeli water purification technology, and the results of the tests will soon be available to the team of scientists, who are currently monitoring the types of microbes that have grown on the device itself, Wilder said.
Inside the device, which was developed about six months ago, is a polymer-based substrate containing chemicals that are able to kill bacteria and viruses upon contact, Wilder explained. On Earth, the scientists had already tested that the technology works under the most extreme conditions and even had simulated a zero-gravity situation.
But they didn’t even find out that they were chosen to take part in the Atlantis trip until “one week before it went into the sky,” according to Wilder.
The Strauss-Fisher purification device is only one of many technologies that NASA has recently taken under its wing for experimentation, he said.
“Microbiology is a big problem in the sky because there’s a huge need to protect everyone traveling,” Wilder said.
Not only can the technology be useful in outer space missions, but it also can be used on Earth, in places where public water systems might not be safe for drinking out of the tap, according to Wilder. While not as useful in Israel, where the water is drinkable in most of the country, the company has already begun installing devices in various parts of China that face challenges in maintaining water purification, he explained.
Ofra Strauss, chairwoman of the Strauss Group, praised the scientific team in a statement for “improving the standard of living for people worldwide through the promise of safe and quality water.”