Space Station Crew Awaits Orbital Plumbers

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. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

Astronautsliving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) need help from an orbitalplumber to fix their troublesome space commode.

The solitaryRussian-builttoilet inside the station?s Zvezda service module began acting up lastweek, forcing U.S. astronaut Garrett Reisman and his two Russian crewmates touse facilities aboard their docked Soyuz spacecraft before restoring thecommode to partial service. Spare parts for the balky space toilet are set tolaunch aboard NASA?s shuttle Discovery on Saturday.

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

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

?It?s notstandard operating procedure, but they?re able to use it,? she added during aseries of televised interviews.

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

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

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

?Clearly, havinga working toilet is a priority for us,? Higginbotham said in a morning statusbriefing.

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

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

NASA has agreed to pay Russia $19 million for asecond space toilet to be installed in the outpost?s U.S. segment laterthis year. The new toilet, along with extra living quarters and other lifesupport equipment, will prepare the station for larger, six-person crewsplanned for 2009.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.