How space innovation trickles down to earth – explained by NASA astronaut Jessica Meir

At the forefront of space exploration, the International Space Station (ISS) serves as a laboratory orbiting Earth and is a symbol of what humanity can achieve when nations work together. A recent conversation with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir at The Tech Arena 2024 stage in February sheds light on the complexities and triumphs of life and work aboard the ISS.

Scientific discovery in space presents many challenges. Meir says that even though many discoveries have come from space research, such as phone cameras and air purifiers, many new technologies are not available to use in space.

“When you talk about innovation, one of the most difficult things doing an experiment in space is not the experiment itself; it’s all the logistics of the surroundings,” Jessica Meir said on stage at The Tech Arena 2024.

Jessica Meir with moderator Linda Nyberg at The Tech Arena 2024 stage. Image credit: Adrian Pehrson.

Collaboration at the ISS

The International Space Station is a collaborative project between the US, Canada, Japan, Europe, and Russia, which makes all of them stakeholders in the success of the missions.

“It (ISS) was actually designed in a clever way, that imposes that collaboration is required. So we are dependent on each other, which is a very good thing for a peaceful project like that because it really forces it to live on despite what’s going on on the ground.”

“Yesterday’s coffee becomes today’s coffee”

From a sustainability standpoint, the ISS is miles ahead of life on Earth with its sustainable water recycling system. Meir explained that “85 to 90% of the water is reused, even sweat and urine, all of it is reclaimed through the toilets, and we also collect all the condensation of the moisture in the environment.” 

This system, which transforms “yesterday’s coffee into today’s coffee,” is a testament to the station’s innovative approach to sustainability. Of course, in an isolated space, it is easier to collect higher volumes of wastewater, but it still has potential applications on Earth, especially in areas struggling with water scarcity.

Jessica Meir at The Tech Arena 2024.

Life on the Moon or Mars

Creating a circular lifestyle on the ISS is a step to potentially living in space, or on other planets. The NASA astronaut told The Tech Arena 2024 audience that one of the most exciting things during her months in space was to successfully grow and harvest lettuce. “It was really nice to have a fresh vegetable up there,” Jessica Meir said.

The ISS is not just a laboratory in orbit; it’s a glimpse into a future where the boundaries of human habitation extend beyond our planet, maybe one day we will all be astronauts.

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