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NASA Space

Main Toilet On ISS Craps Out 219

Posted by kdawson
from the series-of-tubes dept.
The Narrative Fallacy writes "NASA has spent years getting ready for a crowd in space — adding additional sleeping quarters, learning how to recycle liquid waste into drinking water, and installing a second bathroom last year. But now the main toilet has broken down on the International Space Station while a record 13 astronauts are on board. For now Mission Control has advised the astronauts to hang an 'out of service' sign on the toilet as it may take days to repair. In the meantime, Endeavour's seven astronauts will be restricted to the shuttle bathroom. Last year a Russian cosmonaut complained that he was no longer allowed to use the US toilet because of billing and cost issues. Now the six space ISS residents will have to get in line to use the back-up toilet in the Russian part of the station. The pump separator on the malfunctioning toilet has apparently flooded, and ESA astronaut Frank De Winne is the guy tasked with putting his plumbing skills to work on short notice. 'We don't yet know the extent of the problem,' says flight director Brian Smith, adding that the toilet troubles were 'not going to be an issue' for now."
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Main Toilet On ISS Craps Out

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  • Uh oh... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:47AM (#28753223)

    Well, now we know what hit Jupiter...

  • Shuttle Toilet (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:48AM (#28753229)
    They can't use the shuttle toilet that much, since it has to dump waste water overboard periodically. They can't do this while docked.
    • With enough powdered orange squash, maybe they won't notice that the waste water isn't being ejected?

      Maybe they can wee in an airlock and explosively depressurise it... I'm all up for a game of Pee Clayshoot!
  • fed up... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by irving47 (73147)

    Is anyone else just completely fed up with NASA and the ISS and our essentially stagnant space program? Most of the stories over the last few years have been:
    Weather-related delays. (yawn)
    Toilet malfunctions (a technology that should have been figured out, oh, say... 30 years ago?)
    #(&$ing FOAM insulation that has been documented as inferior to the original version in use 25 years ago, because of some environmental concerns. Sure, we could go back to the old version for the last 3 or 4 flights, but hey,

    • Re:fed up... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mercano (826132) <mercano@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:12AM (#28753347)
      Well, 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, especially once we discontinue the shuttle. Orion, Soyuz, Progress, ATV, and even SpaceX's Dragon all use solar power. This means we now need reclaim as much water from urine, rather then just dumping it, hence the toilet all of the sudden becomes a much more complex piece of equipment.
      • by Kokuyo (549451)

        Whether you carry oxygen and hydrogen up there or water doesn't really make a difference, does it? Furthermore, is the product of fuel cells not pure water, meaning completely free of any kinds of minerals? Drinking that as it is isn't particularly healthy either.

        • by Poingggg (103097)

          Whether you carry oxygen and hydrogen up there or water doesn't really make a difference, does it?

          Just the small difference that you need pretty heavy metal cylinders to transport liquid gases and the risks of leakage/explosion etc. are just a tad higher. But other than that....no.

        • Re:fed up... (Score:4, Informative)

          by vlm (69642) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:43AM (#28754683)

          Furthermore, is the product of fuel cells not pure water, meaning completely free of any kinds of minerals? Drinking that as it is isn't particularly healthy either.

          Pure urban legend that distilled water is bad for you. It required the assumption that all tap water is the same, however each tap water source is wildly different.

          Also, not all tap water is safe to drink, even in the "first world". I live very near a subcontinental divide, and on the east side which drains into the great lakes, I can drink slightly filtered lake water, you know, the lake that we dump untreated sewage into each time it rains and med waste washes ashore every time the wind blows in from the lake, and which very recently killed hundreds due to a cryptosporidium outbreak, or on the west side of the divide which drains into the mighty mississip, ultra-deep wells which are actually pretty healthy except for the off the charts radium level. Or there are the shallow wells in rural areas with off the charts fertilizer and insecticide levels. But somehow, those three options are supposed to be safer than purified distilled H2O.

          • by jackbird (721605)
            and which very recently killed hundreds due to a cryptosporidium outbreak

            Source? I found a reference to "the only documented outbreak in the Great Lakes since record-keeping began in 1978" happening in 2002 and sickening 44 people (with no deaths), but nothing involving even one death, let alone hundreds.
            • Re:fed up... (Score:5, Informative)

              by PIBM (588930) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:21AM (#28754879) Homepage

              Feeling lucky on google with cryptosporidium outbreak:

              in 1993 .... This abnormal condition at the plant lasted from March 23 through April 8, after which, the plant was shut down. Over the span of approximately two weeks, 403,000 of an estimated 1.61 million residents in the Milwaukee area (of which 880,000 were served by the malfunctioning treatment plant) became ill with the stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea and dehydration caused by the pathogen. Over 100 deaths were attributed to this outbreak,

          • Well the distilled water bad for you theory relies on the fact that distilled water is hypotonic, and would absorb minerals from the body. According to a quick google search this is absolutely true, only the minerals taken away are usually waste products excreted from the body's cells.

            As for tap and mineral water's "healthy" contents, in addition to the dangers mentioned by the parent, minerals found water are often inorganic and bad for the body. There are much better sources for Sodium and Calcium than dr

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SerpentMage (13390)
        No there is a difference between the Russia and American space program. The way I see it the Russians are able to do things, whereas American's tend to run into roadblocks. Why? Simple answer KISS! If you look at the Russian space program you would think that nothing has changed since their stuff seems so old. Yet their approach is if it works keep it! Whereas many in America tend to say, "oh look at this shiny new toy we must use it." Look at the space shuttle. Great idea, wonderful, and advanced. ooops
        • Take the kiss solution on a trip to Mars and see what happens. If employing Russian approach, you will need a great deal more water to make it there (which means many more launches just to stock up). Personally, I would prefer to have lots of stocks AND the ability to recycle, so that I can go as long as possible.
          • by khallow (566160)

            Take the kiss solution on a trip to Mars and see what happens. If employing Russian approach, you will need a great deal more water to make it there (which means many more launches just to stock up). Personally, I would prefer to have lots of stocks AND the ability to recycle, so that I can go as long as possible.

            What makes you think that simple systems can't recycle? Maybe they can't recycle as well. And you forget "in site resource utilization", using the resources of the land as a means to reduce the complexity of a project. Mars has water so we can reduce the water demand from a mission.

            • K
              The current system IS a simple system. The previous implications was that there would not be recycling (the approach that Russia takes). OTH, this system is not really made for mars itself, but for the trip. It is meant to operate in little to no G's.

              And as to mars having water, You know is that is is located at the extreme locations. The air itself is dry (much dryer than anyplace on earth). If I were going there, I would want plenty of CLEAN supplies available. In addition, I would want it recycled unt
        • Re:fed up... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @08:02AM (#28755207)

          From tfa: 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.

        • Russians built the Zvezda module according to Wiki [wikipedia.org]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hurricane78 (562437)

          Why the f. do some people always have to take sides? It's so stupid!
          We're on this planet and especially in this space station together!
          So how about working as a *team*?

          Take the best from the Russians (reliability and ability to go trough rough times), the USA (high tech, money?, etc.), ESA (any ESA person here, so comment on their strengths?), Japan (dito) etc.

          I bet the astronauts themselves are already doing it, and constantly banging their heads on the walls, because of us down here just not getting it!

          So

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Comatose51 (687974)
      It's easy to criticize when none of us here are experts. Criticize, offer an alternative, and do it all in front of experts then it's worth something. Your statement can easily be changed to be directed at computers and IT. From my past life in IT, I still remember how annoyed users were when the email server went down or there was some networking issue. They couldn't understand why they were restricted from doing certain things or why we had a password policy. One could ask where are our 3D displays?
    • Re:fed up... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by beckett (27524) on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:20AM (#28753379) Homepage Journal

      sorry the NASA channel can't hold your attention like Starship Troopers, Doctor Who, or Jack Bauer killing space terrorists, but this is what space travel is about. it's expensive, dangerous, careful, and this time, really shitty.

      • Re:fed up... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Comatose51 (687974) on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:25AM (#28753407) Homepage
        We really have to give credit to NASA and the other space agencies for making manned space flight relatively safe. Compared to the early days such as the lead up to Mercury and landing on the moon, recent space flights have been safe and thus mundane. We did lose two shuttles but averaged over the total number of flights, it's a positive trend. I guess NASA is not failing spectacularly enough for some people. Toilet failure? That's just news for nerds and only nerds.
        • by beckett (27524)

          there's been 127 shuttle flights and 2 explosions. If once every 63 times you drove your car to work it blew up, killing your whole family, that's not really that safe at all.

          relatively safe compared to "how it used to be", but "how it used to be" was we travelled a lot farther with a lot less.

          i give credit to NASA for innovating under ever tighter purse strings, and unfortunately its the manned flights that are impacted the most.

          • With two catastrophic failures out of 127 STS missions flown, they are achieving well within the original estimates.

            When the program was being designed, it was estimated there would be a 1 in 75 "disaster potential."

            • Might have been 2 accidents in 127 missions, but if you look at it in terms of distance it is very safe ... (This is how airline statistics are made to look safe ...) IE: 127 flights, at say 100 orbits each. Each orbit is roughly 36000 kilometres. -> 3600000 * 100 * 127 = 457,200,000. Therefore one accident per 225 million kilometres. This sounds relatively safe to me!
              • by j-turkey (187775)

                Might have been 2 accidents in 127 missions, but if you look at it in terms of distance it is very safe ... (This is how airline statistics are made to look safe ...) IE: 127 flights, at say 100 orbits each. Each orbit is roughly 36000 kilometres. -> 3600000 * 100 * 127 = 457,200,000. Therefore one accident per 225 million kilometres. This sounds relatively safe to me!

                Commercial air travel is made to look safe? You seem to imply that commercial air travel is not as safe as one common metric suggests. Just because deaths per million miles travel is used doesn't mean that flights per fatal crash is not. Try this [flightglobal.com] out: as of 2008, only 0.47 hull losses per million commercial flights. Sounds pretty safe to me.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            No, relatively safe considering they're sitting on a couple of tonnes of highly explosive fuel, in what is essentially a bloody giant missile with passenger seats.

          • by Kagura (843695)

            If once every 63 times you drove your car to work it blew up, killing your whole family, that's not really that safe at all.

            How about if it blew up once every 63 times you drove to SPACE ? Sounds a little more impressive.

        • Re:fed up... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Tom (822) on Monday July 20, 2009 @05:02AM (#28754249) Homepage Journal

          Toilet failure? That's just news for nerds and only nerds.

          It also reminds us that space travel isn't only about the latest engines, the best computers, the rocket science and other esoteric stuff, but about some really basic problems that we still have to solve if we want to really travel into space, not just around our little globe.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by recharged95 (782975)
          Look at the turning point: 1969.
          After that year: billions of dollars every year since then,thousands of people employed, dedicated engineers and the brightest minds in academia (you know, it's 2009), relatively safe would be considered pretty sad with the amount of theory and materials science we knew back in 1960.
          That with the Russians using proven concepts on a showstring budget...
          Give credit where credit's due, not for the sake that someone or some gov't agency was put in control of it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am completely satisfied with boring, hum-drum, run of the mill, nothing out of the ordinary news reports regarding NASA.

      Why?

      Because when the stories aren't of the above variety they tend to be things like "Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds into flight" or "Shuttle Columbia breaks up over Texas on reentry."

      I'll take the boring reports any day of the week thank you very much.

      • In other words, if your profession is extremely dangerous and anything someone might deem exciting is actually at the very least life threatening to you, you crave boring.

        Nothing is as successful as a boring space mission.

        • Re:fed up... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by camperdave (969942) on Monday July 20, 2009 @08:13AM (#28755279) Journal
          Nothing is as successful as a boring space mission.

          Unfortunately, the way it plays out in the media is "Nothing is as boring as a successful space mission". So when the government pulls the loose change out of the white house sofas to give to NASA, there is an outcry about wasting taxpayer dollars.

          NASA is in a PR bind. If things go smoothly, they appear boring, and the public says "Why should we fund this?". If there's a few glitches, then they look like a mickey-mouse outfit, and the public says "Why should we fund this?". If there's a major disaster, the public says "Why should we fund this?". The only way NASA comes out good is when it is smashing records, and that will only take you so far.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe (446288)

      In case you haven't been keeping score, the space program has been stagnant for decades.

      The "Space Shuttle" program was conceived in the late 1960's and brought to life in the early 1970's. It's first flight was in 1981. So, the most advanced spacecraft humanity has is 28 years old.

      The "International Space Station" platform was announced in 1993, and orbital assembly began in 1998. The base of it is 11 years old.

      I was discussing the space progra

      • Because we're nowhere near the technical stability and sophistication of cellphones and airplanes with spacecraft, and because there's by far less money in the latter.

        Space flight is, after all, rocket science. It's expensive, it's dangerous, and in the wrong hands it's easily turned into a weapon. One of mass distraction if you really want to. Saying a government should not at the very least stay on top of the latter would essentially mean that you, as a government, would readily hand over the spot on top

        • by sjames (1099)

          Because we're nowhere near the technical stability and sophistication of cellphones...

          HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHa, that's a real knee slappe...hello? hello?....can you still hear me?.......

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        If we had built newer and better spacecraft every year since our first manned space flight in the early 1960's, we'd have over 40 generations of spacecraft. Just since the inception of the Space Shuttle program, we should have 28 newer generations of spacecraft, each with improvements from the previous designs.

        I think you underestimate how prohibitively expensive that ammount of design would cost. The shuttle cost billions to design, and each design would require a similar investment.

        More importantly, these designs take time. One year is not enough time to develop a space flight system that will be reliable, cost effective, and better than the previous design. Rushing the next design will make things worse, not better.

        Perhaps a new flight vehicle every decade is a better goal. That should be enough time to

    • This doesn't bode well for manned trips further afield.

      We can talk all we want about sending multi-year manned missions to other planets, but we can't even build a reliable toilet!

      Yes, this makes good joke fodder, but something as simple as a toilet malfunction could spell disaster for a manned mission that is months out in space. I think a lot of the advocates of manned missions to other planets over-estimate the level of systems reliability that we can achieve and under-estimate the level of systems comp

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by petermgreen (876956)

        Agreed, and that is why if we ever want to get a successfull manned trip to mars or beyond we really need a space station because a space station is the only way to get experiance dealing with theese sorts of problems.

        When the space station can go for years at a time without needing any unexpected stuff from earth that is the time to start considering a long distance manned mission.

    • Re:fed up... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by that IT girl (864406) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:05AM (#28754787) Journal
      "Toilet malfunctions (a technology that should have been figured out, oh, say... 30 years ago?)"

      Yes, because things we understand and "have figured out" never go wrong. It's not like modern car engines break down or water pipes in houses burst. And I'm REALLY glad computers never break, then I might have to work, or something.
  • oops (Score:5, Funny)

    by margaret (79092) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:51AM (#28753239)

    It's all Howard Wolowitz's fault.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:53AM (#28753257)
    When the Russians aren't looking, go take a dump on their side of the space station.
  • Shite Plot! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dotslashdot (694478) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:54AM (#28753263)
    I'm waiting for Hollywood to make a movie about sending Joe the Plumber into space to prevent a Russian chocolate rain of terror raining down on the United States from the ISS. Starring Bruce Willis as Joe the Plumber.
  • Highest paid plumber (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ls671 (1122017) *

    Well, I guess the plumber who is going to fix it could go on record as one of the highest paid plumber ever !

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Not necessarily, some plumbers make a ridiculous amount of money.

    • But what if he didn't have the parts in the capsule? He'd have to go direct to the supplier! 3 day turnaround at best, luv.

      I bet he'd ask for a brew, but knowing how precious water is he'd probably bring a thermos. Decadent fool.
  • Crew Fix. (Score:2, Informative)

    They have 13 people up there with strong engineering and scientific backgrounds, shouldn't one of them be able to fix it. Toilet repair should be mandatory for the Russian crew members from now on, at least as they are still using the faulty Soviet MIR surplus toilets.
    • Yes, the "Russian crew members" should be forced to all be plumbers to resolve problems like this. That'll sure be useful if the US and Russia ever have any political differences. Maybe every American sent into Space should be trained on all skills they could possibly need up there, so they can deal with any situation at hand instead. I mean it's not rocket science to make sure your crew is prepared for things like this, where as it's pretty damn stupid to depend on someone else doing it (although this an i

      • by Ash Vince (602485)

        Maybe Russia should institute the same policy the US did and not allow Americans to use their toilet because of cost issues.

    • Perhaps NASA should pre-pack Korma instead of Madras for monday evenings.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:10AM (#28753341) Homepage Journal
    Its a good thing their airlocks are still working. The problem is finding a bush to go behind...
  • Seriously, if the MIR were still around, it would make the perfect outhouse!

    Though really, we need to develop still suit technology.

  • I think crapping OUT is the action one wants of a commode on a space station, no? Can you imagine the hilarity if it were to crap IN?

  • by Comatose51 (687974) on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:21AM (#28753385) Homepage

    "ESA astronaut Frank De Winne is the guy tasked with putting his plumbing skills to work on short notice. 'We don't yet know the extent of the problem,' says flight director Brian Smith, adding that the toilet troubles were 'not going to be an issue' for now."

    So you've just blasted into space on top of a giant stick of explosives. You're in one of the most unique places in the world with an awesome windows view but you have to spend your time fixing the toilet. That would really ruin his day.

  • i guess this is one way to find out who binged on all the dehydrated ice cream.

  • HANG a sign? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:37AM (#28753455)

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means in zero G.

  • I think we've just explained Jupiter's black spot.
  • I recall hearing a story where a college dorm's shower was clogged by semen and hair. uh...

  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Monday July 20, 2009 @02:17AM (#28753615)
    ... but so far have nothing to go on.
  • Just imagine, you're locked up in a tube full of explosives for a whole year with no option of getting some emergency delivery and you suddenly discover you have nowhere to go in more ways then one.

    "Oh shit" doesn't begin to cover it, I think..

  • To IIS crew, don't panic, and keep a towel close. You don't know what will come next in Murphy's repertory.
  • This one implies that the Russians were being discriminated against (Last year a Russian cosmonaut complained that he was no longer allowed to use the US toilet), but the linked summary says "Padalka, who will be the station's next commander, says the arguments date back to 2003, when Russia started charging other space agencies for the resources used by their astronauts" and also that it was only a *suggestion* that they stick to their own plumbing.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:34AM (#28754975) Homepage
    Standard Operating Procedure for Waste Disposal Repair:ISS

    1. designated technician must respond no sooner than 5 hours after initial failure is detected.
    2. display of 2.27-5.323 inches of exposed gluteus maximus is required at all times during any/all repair exercises
    3. no work is to be performed for a duration of longer than 12 minutes, without 30 minute recovery period. consumption of 1 slim-jim or approx. 11 corn nuts during recovery period is recommended
    4. repair costs will be billed to all parties involved and uninvolved in damage and repair. total repair will be factored against the strength of the yen, yuan, and national deficit accordingly to arrive at a final cost of no less than 3/4th the 2011 NASA budget proposal.
  • OOohh (Score:4, Funny)

    by ledow (319597) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:37AM (#28755005) Homepage

    OOohh, well.... (breaths in through teeth)... it's these space toilets. You just can't get the parts these days. I mean, I can probably have it for you for next month, how's that? Any sooner and it means a trip down to the warehouse to pick up bits. And, you know, my little van is going to struggle getting back to Earth and then back again, especially at this time of night.

    Tell you what I'll do... Tell you what I'll do... I'll ring me mate. He's just doing a job over on the Mars landers. He'll have it for you in no time, no time at all.

    Discount for cash?

  • Issue Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday July 20, 2009 @07:56AM (#28755153) Homepage Journal

    the toilet troubles were 'not going to be an issue' for now.

    No, they are definitely, unavoidably an "issue". Otherwise we wouldn't have a story. It might not be a "problem", though really this is also a problem, but one with a solution. But anything that people can legitimately talk about, that anyone agrees is worth talking about, is an "issue".

    The computer world has turned everyone into a coward afraid of admitting something might be a "problem". Instead, everything's an "issue", which might not be a problem. That's nice: no problem, no blame; just some chitchat and a "resolution". Or it's "unresolved", but that's still not as bad as a problem. Except that's all a bunch of words in denial that there's a problem without a solution. Which makes it hard to solve the problem.

    There is no doubt that losing toilets in orbit, to the point of relying on a backup, across an international divide that was itself a political problem for months, is a "problem". If we can't call that what it is, I don't know if we can take the problems that space exploration brings with it. And that issue is a real problem.

  • "flight director Brian Smith, adding that the toilet troubles were 'not going to be an issue' for now."

    Well maybe not for him perhaps. This what you have to put up with when every critical piece of equipment is made by the lowest bidder...

  • A public restroom is the only place where a flush beats a full house.

  • ESA astronaut Frank De Winne is the guy tasked with putting his plumbing skills to work on short notice.

    Repairs are delayed while a joint ESA/NASA team determine the correct jumpsuit modification to optimize butt-crack visibility in zero G.

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