Brazos Valley Invention Blasts Off with Endeavour

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Seven astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour took flight Friday evening on a mission to make some upgrades on the International Space Station.

And one of those changes, which could potentially have some big implications, has its roots right here in the Brazos Valley.

"This is one of the actual prototypes that was built for NASA," said O. I. Analytical Engineering Manager Gary Erickson, pointing to a blue box about the size of a large laptop. "Very small, compact, and very simple to operate."

The device that is creating a buzz hundreds of miles above earth is a Total Organic Carbon Analyzer (TOCA). Though there are other upgrades being made on the I.S.S., the TOCA is the one change that NASA is excited about because if it works successfully, astronauts will be able to safely reprocess water similar to the way it's done at plants here on earth.

"We're actually at the end of that process to validate that the process has been successful and the water is safe for human consumption," said Erickson.

Erickson and his team of scientists and engineers at O. I. Analytical have been making carbon analyzers for more than 30 years, but it took them more than two years to perfect one that could be used in space.

"There was a lot of effort and engineering that went into it, for this specific application that won't transfer back to the terrestrial application," said Erickson.

Currently, astronauts have to haul fresh water with them on every flight. But with the TOCA, they would be able to recycle water from a number of sources including condensation and even urine. And while it sounds slightly disgusting, Erickson notes that before water is processed on Earth, there are many unfavorable things that can be found in any sample, even from natural springs.

"When you go to drink a glass of water, and as you drink it, you should enjoy the fact that you're the seventh human being to process that water," Erickson said. "So there's no such thing as new water."

So the next time you look towards the heavens, just remember that a little part of the Brazos Valley is looking back.

For those that would like to catch a glimpse of the space station as it passes over earth, it's expected to be in orbit over the Brazos Valley about 5:52 p.m. Tuesday November 18, and then again on Wednesday the 19th around 6:19 p.m.