One of the proposed methods for monitoring the microbial quality of the water supply aboard the International Space Station is membrane filtration. We adapted this method for space flight by using an off-the-shelf filter unit developed by Millipore. This sealed unit allows liquid to be filtered through a 0.45 μm cellulose acetate filter that sits atop an absorbent pad to which growth medium is added. We combined a tetrazolium dye with R2A medium to allow microbial colonies to be seen easily, and modified the medium to remain stable over 70 weeks at 25°C.
This hardware was assembled and tested in the laboratory and during parabolic flight; a modified version was then flown on STS-66. After the STS-66 mission, a back-up plastic syringe and an all-metal syringe pump were added to the kit, and the hardware was used successfully to evaluate water quality aboard the Russian Mir space station.