A not so long time ago (in a galaxy not far away), I explored solutions for potable water and wastewater generation onboard spacecraft with a group of students in a joint NASA-Texas A&MUniversity Space Engineering Institute project. The project coincided with The Big Bang Theory’s “The Classified Materials Turbulence” episode (Season 2, episode 22, 2009) in which Howard, the engineer, created a special toilet for the International Space Station only to find a fatal flaw in his design. The episode centers on a failed remedy that includes his friends’ problem solving “skills” and his mother’s meatloaf. When the students realized the overlap, they used the episode to remind me that my life was a comedy. Fortunately, I like comedies (and meatloaf ). But the issue of what to do with potable water onboard spacecraft isn’t comedic. Current systems on the International Space Station (ISS) that directly treat and reuse urine and condensate to provide a source of potable water have not been stable enough to handle manned space travel beyond low earth orbit (2,000 km). Here are some of the unseemly details… While urine is sterile, it is also the perfect growth media for bacteria. Bacteria break down urea into ammonia, and the resulting shift in composition raises the urine pH (making it more alkaline). As the pH of urine increases, precipitates form. These precipitates eventually block the small tubing that the ISS relies on to promote capillary action to move fluid under zero gravity. When the tubes clog, the system does not work. If we are going to send anyone to Mars, this problem needs to be solved. Students need a good challenge Flash forward to a redesigned course I offer at Ohio Northern University. I’ve taught this course consistently since 2007, but recently changed my aim to enhance student curiosity and encourage them to make their own connections to new areas. To do that, I created outside- the-box projects, including one inspired by my time collaborating with NASA while I was working at Texas A&M and the previously mentioned episode of The Big Bang Theory. astronauts must go Mars, potable water, and one class’s mission Where No one Has Gone Before Civil engineering professor Bryan Boulanger of Ohio Northern University (pictured with senior Emily Puleo) redesigned his course to enhance student curiosity and make connections to new areas. By Bryan Boulanger Professor of Civil Engineering at Ohio Northern University 28 29