AUSTIN – Dr. Leroy Chiao spent 15 years as a NASA astronaut, logging 229 days in space. During that time, he also served as an International Space Station commander and participated in six space walks.
"I got to fly four times into space. My first three missions were with space shuttles. My fourth mission, I trained with the Russians,” Chiao said.
Chiao called on that experience and his background as an engineer when he spoke to attendees at the Water for Texas conference in Austin this week.
“The only thing more precious in space, other than water, is oxygen,” Chiao said.
As it turns out, having enough water while in space is an exact science.
"We came within two weeks of running out, and if we had run out, we would have had to abandon ship and come back down,” Chiao said of a previous mission.
It was a close call, but NASA, not surprisingly, has made great strides in water conservation using technology.
"It’s pretty amazing what we can do now,” Chiao said.
Such innovations as water purification systems are now common on space missions. They allow astronauts to reclaim water in creative ways.
"We recycle the condensation, so all the sweat and things like that are collected and processed,” Chiao said. "In recent years, NASA has been working, or using, urine reclamation."
Creative thinking and technology is now being applied on Earth. There is also one other space-water connection. Scientists believe water equals life. So is there life out there in space? Chiao thinks so. He believes, however, that it is likely millions of light-years away.
"I don't think we've found each other and don't think we ever will,” Chiao said.