Astronauts install water recycler, Houston Chronicle
"Shuttle Endeavour's astronauts on Wednesday furnished the international space station with a $250 million water recycler as they surged ahead of schedule to expand the orbital outpost. The recycler, designed to turn urine, wash water and other wastes into drinking water, may be activated later today for a trial run. But NASA won't let the astronauts drink from it until samples are tested for purity back on Earth."
Editor's note: This article is certainly just fine in terms of what it describes. What is curious, however, are the comments that regular people (mostly adults I presume) post. Its almost as if they were all from 5th graders - you know the sort of poo and pee jokes that Beavis and Butthead often made. This is not the Chronicle's fault at all. Its what many people instinctively think when they hear about drinking recycled urine.
I am not certain I want to fault NASA PAO in any way over this since there is little they can do to present this in a way that won't incite the giggle factor (although this easily Googled NASA press release from 2003: "Fun With Urine" Stirs Student's Imagination" probably doesn't exactly help things). That said, there is a chance for NASA to make things like this more relevant to the every day experiences of the general population - as the article does - by talking about domestic water treatment plants. There is also some relevancy, to be certain, to life support challenges faced by our troops in the middle east, researchers at the south pole, hurricane damaged areas in the southern U.S., new green technologies for recycling, etc.
And yes, I have not exactly been totally consistent with regard to my own advice either: my posting of this 2008 memo from JSC "NASA JSC Urine Collection Study Donor Request" spurred dozens of news stories on this same theme including the ever present 5th grade "yuck factor". Of course I knew that this would probably happen.
This is going to be NASA's greatest challenge over the next 4(8) years: to show its true relevancy to everyday life and to do so in a manner that shifts some of the media's and public's preoccupation with all the things that NASA does wrong to the vast majority of things that it does right - often in ways that no other organization - anywhere - has ever done. And in mounting such an effort, NASA needs to be proactive as well as reactive. No this is not "lobbying" or "marketing" - things that get Congress and OMB all upset. Rather, it is simply explaining to people what is being done with their tax dollars - and why.