Did someone forget to put enough toilets in the International Space Station? Sure sounds like it. NASA is now going to spend some $19 million buying a space toilet from the Russians :
The new toilet will go on the International Space Station, which currently has a crew of three, and only one toilet. The crew will expand to six members in 2009, and space bosses don't want astronauts lining up when they have to go.
The new toilet will be similar to the existing toilet (also Russian-built), which has been in orbit since late 2000, 1.6 billion kilometres ago, and is still flushing.
Actually, space toilets don't really flush, because that would waste water. They use vacuum instead.
Since supplies are difficult and expensive to deliver, the space station (like the Russian Mir station before it) has to get along with very little fresh water. It is in such short supply that astronauts use no-rinse shampoo and edible toothpaste so they don't have to rinse and spit.
Every few months, a supply ship brings about 450 litres of fresh water. But that's not enough to supply a crew of three.
Instead, the toilet pumps urine to a U.S.-made filtering system. Water molecules are very small, and the filters can remove anything made of bigger molecules -- in particular, the organic waste in urine.
For $19 million, NASA also gets a "privacy enclosure" around the toilet. And like all space toilets, it will have foot straps to keep the user steady.
No rinse shampoo? Why hasn't that, like Velcro, made its way into terra shops?