Dec 20, 2008

Lifestyle - New Space toilet & A Door

Tariq Malik

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station hooked up their brand new space toilet this week, but it's missing one last touch: A simple door, for privacy.

The $19 million space commode's curtain-like door was left off intentionally pending the completion of other work on nearby equipment early next month. But mission managers may move up its installation to jump-start use of the orbital toilet.

"Today the toilet's just wide open, and so it's not in use just yet," said Kirk Shireman, NASA's deputy space station program manager, in a Thursday briefing. "Mechanically and fluid-wise, it's fully functional today."

The Russian-built toilet is the second commode to be installed aboard the space station. Astronauts delivered the new toilet to the station's U.S. segment last month during an extreme orbital makeover to prime the outpost to double its crew size up to six astronauts next year.

While the toilet is vital to the station's ability to support larger crews, it's also part of a new regenerative life support system that collects astronaut sweat, urine and wastewater so it can be recycled back into potable water for drinking, food preparation, bathing and oxygen generation.

Shireman said engineers are considering having the toilet's door installed to begin using the space commode and fully testing the life support system.

"It's probably just an hour or two to put that thing up and to take it down again," he said.

Plumbing lines to pipe urine from the bathroom to the recycling system, are already in place along with others to route recycled water to a new kitchen also delivered last month.

Samples of water recycled from urine stored in containers aboard the station were returned to Earth for analysis and have checked out fine in tests, Shireman said. More purity tests are required before the water can cleared for human consumption, it has been approved for other uses, he added.

"We've approved for the crew to use it for bathing and shampooing their hair, just not for consumption," Shireman said, adding that the water is also being used to create oxygen aboard the station. "And we expect that to begin in late February or early March."

Shireman said space station astronauts also installed the outpost's new sleeping chambers this week and are gearing up for a planned Monday spacewalk.

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