Water is Critical for Life: An Engineering Activity

Developing and maintaining water production on the International Space Station is vital for keeping the crew alive as well as supporting hygiene and equipment functions.  On Earth, the average American uses about 90 gallons of water per day. That seems like a lot but think about all of the ways YOU use water!  From washing your clothes, to flushing the toilet, brushing your teeth to cooking and drinking, we are definitely each using quite a bit of water in our day to day lives.

 Astronauts on the ISS all have the same needs as we do on Earth. The big difference is though, it is very expensive to ship water to a space station. Water adds a lot of weight or payload which means an increase in cost for the mission. So, crew members must use water wisely and recycle water when possible.

 Recycle water? Yes, and it is as strange as you’re thinking.  An astronaut is only allowed to use about 8 gallons of water every day.  Space Station crews must recycle the water they use. This includes water from the shower, shaving and even urine. These waste waters will be purified and used again.  Watch Astronaut Chris Hadfield explain about recycling water! See how the WRS (Water Recovery System) works more in depth and what we will need when it is time to travel much deeper into space!


After you watch the video, challenge yourself to create a water filtration device that can be made out of things that you have laying around the house. 

You’ll need a bucket or bowl of water and add a scoop of dirt to it.  Devise a series of at least four steps to clean the dirt and other solids from your water.  (DISCLAIMER: You will not be able to DRINK this water afterwards! This is only for visualcomparison!)

To earn credit for this activity, take a video of your entire water filtration device from beginning to end!  We’d love to see you explain your materials and how you engineered it.  Remember, you need to have at least 4 steps.

Some materials you COULD use are:

Sponges, charcoal filters, screens, cotton balls, narrow tubing, sand, coffee filters, or small pebbles.

Be creative! We can’t wait to see what you come up with! To earn credit for this activity, snap two photos, one before and one after so that we can see just how clean your water got!  If possible, annotate on the photos what materials are where or how your filter was engineered.  The more info the better!