Space Station Crew Awaits Orbital Plumbers
The Expedition 17 station crew reviews the STS-124 timeline during a conference with U.S. planners. Inside the Destiny laboratory are (from left), commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineers Garrett Reisman and Oleg Kononenko.
Credit: NASA TV.

Astronauts living aboard the International Space Station (ISS) need help from an orbital plumber to fix their troublesome space commode.

The solitary Russian-built toilet inside the station?s Zvezda service module began acting up last week, forcing U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman and his two Russian crewmates to use facilities aboard their docked Soyuz spacecraft before restoring the commode to partial service. Spare parts for the balky space toilet are set to launch aboard NASA?s shuttle Discovery on Saturday.

?We are working with the Russians to see what spare parts they?d like us to launch,? space station flight director Annette Hasbrook told

Hasbrook said the toilet is now working in a so-called ?manual mode,? which requires astronauts to use extra flush water instead of the air flow system as designed. The glitch only afflicts the toilet?s liquid waste collection system, she added.

?It?s not standard operating procedure, but they?re able to use it,? she added during a series of televised interviews.

Meanwhile, a NASA employee is en route from Russia to the agency?s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., with a diplomatic pouch carrying a spare toilet pump, said Scott Higginbotham, payload manager for the shuttle Discovery?s STS-124 mission.

The pump, known as a gas-liquid separator assembly, is a 35-pound (16-kg) part about 1.5 feet (about half a meter) long and 8 inches (20 cm) wide and tall.

The spare part is due to arrive around 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200 May 29 GMT) and be packed away inside Discovery?s middeck early Thursday, Higginbotham said. Shuttle workers will have to remove spare wrenches, air scrubber equipment and other items to make room for the last-minute item, he added.

?Clearly, having a working toilet is a priority for us,? Higginbotham said in a morning status briefing.

Discovery is slated to launch Saturday at 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) on a 14-day mission to deliver Japan?s massive Kibo laboratory module, an orbital room the size of a large tour bus.

The space station currently has one primary toilet, inside the Russian built Zvezda module, to support its three-astronaut crew.

NASA has agreed to pay Russia $19 million for a second space toilet to be installed in the outpost?s U.S. segment later this year. The new toilet, along with extra living quarters and other life support equipment, will prepare the station for larger, six-person crews planned for 2009.