- The European Space Agency announced the discovery on Friday.
- A compound in urine has unique and useful properties in space.
The European Space Agency made the announcement last Friday. A compound present in urine reacts in a specific and beneficial way with moon dust. Their discovery comes as scientists plan construction of a lunar space station on the surface of the moon. By bringing fewer building materials from Earth, researchers reduce the mission’s cost. Lunar concrete would use lunar regolith, the soil covering the surface of the moon and water transported from Earth. That’s where the pee comes in; the urea in urine breaks hydrogen bonds and reduces viscosity of fluid.
Urea improves the malleability of lunar regolith, reducing the amount of water the concrete requires. Scientists spend a lot of time wondering what to do with human waste in space. Its presence is undeniable, and besides the ick factor, solid waste presents a bacterial hazard.
Liquid waste jettisons straight into space from shuttles and the space station. Any liquid (including pee) immediately boils and evaporates in the vacuum of space. Solid waste from the space toilet gets exposed to space to evaporate the liquid portion, then it’s stored for transport back to Earth’s surface. If you saw The Martian, you watched Matt Damon raid the solid waste storage tanks for fertilizer for his potato farm. If you haven’t seen The Martian, spoiler alert.
The Moon’s Not That Popular
The last crewed mission to the moon was in 1972. Just 12 people, all American, have visited the surface of the moon. There’s just not much up there, and it doesn’t have enough surface area to be a viable place to colonize once Earth can’t support the human population anymore. Which should happen any day now. Some scientists hypothesize the ultimate carrying capacity of Earth is 9 billion. But the world population won’t stabilize for another 80 years, after it reaches 10 billion.
However, a lunar surface science laboratory has value as a communication hub, and research station for later manned missions to Mars. Granted, you can’t smell in space. But you have to wonder what kind of species we are who’d travel across space to build shelters out of our own pee.