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Journal perfessor multigeek's Journal: And *why* exactly do they call it WASTE?

Maybe I'm just dumb. Maybe I'm missing something. But I just can't understand why NASA protocol is to take considerable amounts of mass (empty packing materials, small non-working stuff like pens, feces, etc.) and drop it into the atmosphere.

I mean, hey, how much does it cost per kilo to get something into Earth orbit?

And there's no viable solution possible to take our leftovers and turn them into something useful? I simply don't believe it.

I remember back in elementary school building a solar reflector out of cardboard, aluminum foil, and Elmer's glue. It worked fine. Sure, it wasn't ideal, but my little fourth-grade hands did just fine using stuff from the kitchen (I think I used mostly cardboard from a cut up paper towel roll) to make a servicable device able to concentrate sunlight enough to burn paper.
So tell me, why can't NASA, with their billions of dollars in staff and facilities (and all their buddies at Morton Thiokol, et al), come up with a device to melt materials to vapor (plasma?), spray the vapor onto strips or sheets, thereby separating it by compounds and maybe even elements, and then, at the least, boost the stuff to a parking orbit?

I'm not even going to get into the issue of all the "junk" wandering about various earth orbits. I'll just point out that at even an assessed current value of, oh, say, a thousand dollars a kilo, there's a hell of a lot of valuable bits and glops up there waiting to be recovered. I must admit, I am curious as to what folks like Lloyds have decided about the law for space salvage. I have a sneaking suspicion that once one was recovering materials at a facility created to service the ISS and/or shuttle, a tidy additional revenue stream could be generated by having more little robots puttering about collecting the rest of the little bits wandering about unwanted near our planet. I'll even bet that insurance companies would subsidize the venture as a way to cut their current risks on insured satellites.

Now again, maybe I'm missing something obvious and would be most curious if anybody (with facts to present) could show why this is impossible. But it looks to me like we're talking about a very finite set of problems here.

1.) put matter in openable or burnable bags.

2.) transfer bags to predictable, stable, and reachable location.
This can mean storing them within the ISS and/or shuttles, storing them at the ISS/shuttle but on an external tether, or even moving them off to a stable orbit somewhere or even to someplace like L5. All that matters is that when it's time to take out the garbage/empty the toilet the resulting matter reaches a location that is safe for crew, reachable for later processing, and will not cause the matter to dissipate/burn up.

3.) Divide matter into usable materials
This problem itself subdivides and I'm not up for going into all the possible subsets or techniques. These include:
-thermal depolymerization
-melting the plastics off packing materials but saving the metals and glass
-holding organic waste aside and either stopping there or working harder to extract usable water for reuse.
-accumulating "tainted" water that cannot be used for food and using it to create a tank. Place pulverized matter into tank with anode and cathode, periodically replace anode and cathode, which themselves are processed to recover now more purified materials. Perhaps build a succesion of tanks that operate as assorted pressures, temps, voltages, etc.
-fractionating columns in solution and/or rotational devices , in either case dividing by mass
-organic and/or chemical means of separation including everything from microbes in water solution (we've got ones now that can concentrate everything from petroleum to various metals) to enzymes, to simple chemical reactions. Then harvest results.
An infinitum. But personally my favorite (just as a starting point for this type of discussion) is what I think is the most elegant. That consists, as I said above, of making a big melting device at the head of a series of magnets and/or a rotating chamber such that the resulting vapor (again, probably actually plasma, but not in all cases) will separate as if it were passing through a giant mass spectrometer. At the far end of the chamber matter will accumulate in thicker and thinner bands of divided materials, ready for harvesting and, in some cases like iron, immediate reuse.

4.) Store until we begin space-based manufacturing
Now this can be addressed easily but probably inadvisably by storing the stuff in the general neighborhood of the ISS. I think that I've made it plain that in general our space program is easily dissuaded from processes that are slow and/or gradual, not doing things that involve "and then we sit around for twenty years" if there is another answer that is far more resource hungry but faster. ("Why" is a discussion for another post. Let's just say that I'm well aware of issues of funding concerns, desire for career enhancement, etc.)
I suspect that the best bet is to, again as I've suggested elsewhere, build a fleet of tiny slow robotic tugs. Probably ion-engine driven and solar powered, such tugs could readily cycle through a libration(sp?) point (like L5) to LEO route, bringing one load after another to a truly stable location well out everybody's way and stored somewhere that we will certainly want stuff later.
For some matter (such as feces) it might even make sense to drop it (carefully) onto a chosen location on the moon, where it will wait until we want to build gardens there, giving us an instant headstart of maybe as much as thousands of pounds of starter to create soil.

Fundamentally, what I'm saying here comes down to two things.
First of all, Americans are *terrible* at recycling and waste management in general, which sucks, but for us to extend those habits to a place where materials cost thousands of dollars a pound or more is flat out offensive. Espcially since goddammit, this is, in a very real way OUR FUCKING SPACE PRAGRAM. We have allowed them to be in charge of what is for now, pretty much the only game in town in an aspect of civilization that is incredibly important to all of us. If they want to play sloppy on their turf, well, I'll just be conceptually annoyed. But when they are sloppy at building *my* house, I don't intend to stay so blase.
Secondly, materials handling procedures, like so much else in the space program, takes a very short-term view. In other words, they say "we don't have any use for such matter, so why save it?" Well, I dispute that they cannot use any of what they now throw out (if you doubt this then check out the contents of these drop offs; I'll do a post soon with links) but even if they can't, I find it highly unlikely that reuse will be impossible for the forseeable future. Or, to get to the real point, it looks to me like we're figuring reuse and recycling out a hell of a lot faster then we're figuring cheap ways to get mass up the gravity well.
So, waddaya think?
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And *why* exactly do they call it WASTE?

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There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about. -- John von Neumann