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Houston's potty problem: Space toilet floods again

By / July 20, 2009



Amid all of this weekend's Apollo coverage, little was made of astronauts' No. 1 problem. Their toilet broke yesterday.

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The International Space Station is hosting its largest party ever – six regular crew members and seven extra astronauts working on further maintenance around the base. What an unfortunate time for the commode to flood.

These $19-million Russian toilets have broken before, and mission managers worry that the growing list of guests will continue to overwhelm the station's two toilets. The docked shuttle Endeavour provided a temporary loo on Sunday as astronauts repaired the flooded separator pump and control panel. After a few hours of plumbing Monday morning, the crew fixed the toilet.

So, how does a space toilet work? Since liquids don't behave well in zero-gravity, Russian engineers devised a series of suction tubes and fans. Here's a quick schematic:

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