NASA phased by ISS toilet-fail, 40 years after Apollo 11 moon landing

40 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA and RKA are scratching their heads over the failure of the ISS toilet. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers sit and ponder the fate of the International Space Station's 13-strong crew; wondering if the situation will get desperate, or if relief is near.

By Richi Jennings: your humble blogwatcher, who selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention what Cyriak Harris has been up to lately...

Aunty Beeb puts on her best po-face:

The main toilet has broken down on the International Space Station (ISS), currently home to a record 13 astronauts. ... Mission Control told the crew to hang an "out of service" sign until the toilet can be fixed.

The crew of the shuttle Endeavour is confined to using the craft's loo. ISS residents are using a back-up toilet in the Russian part of the station. ... The main toilet, a multi-million-dollar Russian-built unit, was flown up and installed on the US side of the space station last year. It had broken down once before, requiring a rush delivery of a replacement pump by the shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Andrew Thomas checks the log:

40 years to the day after the first manned lunar landing, astronauts are facing a rather more basic problem as the crew of the shuttle Endeavour is forced to use the spacecraft's own toilet and ISS residents are using a back-up toilet in the Russian part of the station.


In the meantime, Mission control has told the crew not to boldly go while attempts are made to fix the problem with the multi-million dollar Russian-made toilet. ... Two crew members have been given the job of fixing the toilet. Mission chiefs say the astronauts have the spare parts in orbit to fix it and that the problem should be resolved 'in a day or so'.

Clara Moskowitz... must... resist... punnage... temptation:

Station crews are investigating the symptoms of the balky toilet, which appears to have a flooded liquid separator. This $19 million commode was delivered to the station by the STS-126 shuttle mission in November 2008. Mission managers aren't sure yet how long the astronauts can last with only two toilets.


If needed, astronauts can use a bag system similar to what Apollo astronauts had to use.

But Robert Paul Reyes has no such compunction:

It might really strain relations between the United States and Russia if the Americans are forced to use the Russian toilet for a long period of time. The Russians can only take so much **** before they really get p-oed.

Only a bureaucracy like NASA would call [it] a "Waste and Hygiene Compartment". But whatever you call the toilet, the astronauts are going to be in serious **** if they don't repair it promptly.

Phil's legs have gone to sleep:

40 years ago we were walking around on the moon. Now we are unclogging toilets in low earth orbit. Something doesn't seem right here.

But Alan Hensley brings a comfort break:

I dunno, seems like if you get to the point where you have to start worrying about having too many people in space and clogging up the toilets, that's a step in the right direction.

Dignity or no, we've all had to grab a plunger at some point in our lives. Now that translates to space as well.

Mercano offers this informative background info:

In the Apollo days, urine was just dumped overboard. The service module's fuel cells made more then enough water as a byproduct of electrical production. Pretty much the same setup for the shuttle; in fact, the shuttle will typically offload extra water onto the station before departing.

The station uses solar panels for electricity. Good news: no need to haul up liquid hydrogen and oxygen to supply electrical power. Bad news: no more free water source. ... We now need reclaim as much water from urine, rather then just dumping it, hence the toilet all of a sudden becomes a much more complex piece of equipment.

Meanwhile, w0mprat just can't hold back any longer:

The engineers are investigating ... but so far have nothing to go on.

So what's your take?

Get involved: leave a comment.

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Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 24 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

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