Reports on the International Space Station’s new cutting-edge lab were a little lost in the shuffle this week. There was a much sillier story for science journalist to cover: the station’s broken toilet.
After days of giggling, the shuttle Discovery delivered a replacement pump, and we learned last night that the new piece was in place. Even the shuttle crew, whose real mission was to deliver and attach the $950 million “Kibo” laboratory, had a sense of humor about it. After docking Monday, mission commander Mark Kelly asked, “You looking for a plumber?”
Jokes aside, the whole story made me wonder how a space loo works. There’s no gravity, which makes everything involving liquids a little more dicey. Here’s what I found:
In case the new parts didn’t work, NASA had a tried-and-true backup, but it’s not a pretty one. The NYTimes reports: “The alternate methods of waste disposal, including plastic bags with adhesive and bactericide known as ‘Apollo bags,’ because they were used by early astronauts, are not ‘particularly pleasant,’ Kirk Shireman, the head of the station program, said on Tuesday in a media briefing.”
Back on the sillier side of things, The Lede, a NYTimes blog, posted a nice run down of some of the media’s better space-toilet farces. My favorite was a spoofed NASA patch that riffs off the mission’s original.