Astronauts Have a Toilet Again—Oh, and a $1 Billion Science Lab

By Eliza Strickland | June 5, 2008 12:10 pm

astronaut space station portraitThe toilet on the International Space Station was finally fixed yesterday, provoking a sigh of relief from astronauts and a wave of giggles from the earthlings here below.

The zero-gravity toilet broke two weeks ago, and couldn’t be fixed until the space shuttle Discovery arrived at the station with a load of spare parts.

Discovery had a trip to the station scheduled anyway, to deliver a $1 billion science lab that’s now the largest component of the station. But while mission command may have hoped to use the shuttle’s trip to educate the public on zero-gravity science experiments, the emergency toilet repair took the spotlight instead.

Yesterday, astronauts installed a new pump in the toilet to repair the one that failed. The solid waste system was operating properly, but the liquid system, which uses air flow to direct urine and store it in a receptacle, began malfunctioning more than a week before the shuttle’s arrival on Monday. A pump that separates urine from air and directs the urine into a tank failed; two spare pumps aboard the station were installed and failed as well [The New York Times].

The astronauts have handled the incident with grace and good humor; the shuttle’s pilot reportedly asked, “You looking for a plumber?” after docking with the station. But NASA officials seem a bit weary of the toilet topic. “It’s unfortunate we’re talking about toilets, but that really is the life, that’s the future of human exploration in space,” Kirk Shireman, deputy space station program manager, said Tuesday night. “I don’t take it as a really bad thing. It’s just something perhaps everyday people can really relate to,” he said [AP News].

Meanwhile, astronauts also ventured out of the station for a space walk on Tuesday to install the Japanese-built laboratory, which is named Kibo, or “hope.” The lab was officially opened on Wednesday with a speech by the Japanese astronaut, and a few hijinks inside the spacious room. [C]aution soon gave way to orbital play as all 10 astronauts aboard the docked station and shuttle Discovery bounced off Kibo’s curved walls, struck poses for photographs and performed weightless somersaults and flips [SPACE.com].

Today, two astronauts are working in space again, installing external cameras around Kibo and preparing it for the attachment of another lab segment on Friday. The lab won’t be complete and ready for experiments until the delivery of a final piece — the porch-like platform that will allow for experiments in the vacuum of space. That segment is scheduled to arrive next year.

Image: NASA

Related Posts: To Check Shuttle for Damage, a Zero-Gravity Backflip
Space Shuttle to Deliver Science Lab, Plumbing Supplies

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