Archive for Monday, July 20, 2009

Astronauts deal with flooded toilet in orbit

July 20, 2009

Advertisement

— The bathroom lines at the already crowded space shuttle and space station complex got a lot longer Sunday because of a flooded toilet.

One of two commodes aboard the international space station broke down, right in the middle of complicated robotic work being conducted by the two crews. The pump separator apparently flooded.

Mission Control advised the astronauts to hang an “out of service” sign on the toilet until it could be fixed. In the meantime, the six space station residents had to get in line to use their one good toilet. And Endeavour’s seven astronauts were restricted to the shuttle bathroom.

There have never been so many people — 13 — together in space.

The toilet repair work fell to Belgian Frank De Winne and American Michael Barratt. They ripped apart the compartment, working well into the evening. Mission Control finally instructed them to call it a day and resume the effort this morning.

Flight director Brian Smith declined to speculate whether overuse caused the toilet trouble.

Teams of specialists in Houston and Moscow hurriedly convened to discuss the problem. The Russian-built, multimillion-dollar toilet flew up on a shuttle last November.

Smith said there is no urgency to the bathroom situation, at least for now. But he said if the toilet remains out of action for several days, “then we’ll readdress the situation and see what we have to do.”

Going into this mission, NASA wanted at least four of Endeavour’s crew to use the space station’s bathrooms, so the shuttle waste water tank would not fill up.

As long as Endeavour is docked to the space station, it cannot eject any waste water. The nozzle is located near the newly installed porch on the Japanese lab; the attach mechanisms for experiments could corrode if sprayed by water.

Two bathrooms ultimately are needed for a full station crew of six. Smith said he did not know how long six occupants could use a single toilet.

Both the shuttle and station are equipped with other ways for the astronauts to relieve themselves, Smith said, including Apollo-era urine collection bags.

Much of Sunday was spent using a pair of robot arms to move a large cargo carrier, loaded with batteries and spare parts, from the shuttle to the station.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.