Space Toilet May Get a Road Test

Space Toilet May Get a Road Test
NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, commander of Expedition 18, explains the intricacies of the space station's toilet in a video tour. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

Thisstory was updated at 5:08 p.m. EDT.

The newestbathroom aboard the International Space Station will have to wait for a vitalroad test, even though the space shuttle Discovery?s crew has more than tripledthe orbiting lab?s population.

Discovery?sseven astronauts arrivedat the space station late Tuesday to receive a warm welcome from theoutpost?s three-person crew. But delays launching the shuttle forced NASA to trimsome objectives from Discovery?s flight, including a spacewalk, flight day and,sadly, the planned test of the station?snew orbital loo.

NASA spaceoperations chief Bill Gerstenmaier told just after Discovery?sSunday launch that station mission planners were hopeful they could still fitthe space toilet test in Discovery?s mission. But the test must now wait untilafter repairs to the station?s urine recycling system and a water dispenser,NASA officials told Wednesday.

Spacestation commander Michael Fincke sent Discovery?s crew a video tour of thestation?s new bathroom when plans were in place to have the astronauts aboardhelp test the space toilet?s capacity to make sure it was ready to support sixlong-term residents. While Fincke?s crew currently numbers three astronauts,the station is slated to double its occupancy up to six people in late May.

?You guysare going to get to try it out,? station commander Michael Fincke toldDiscovery?s crew in a recent videotour of the new bathroom.

A NASAspokesperson said the toilet is available for use by astronauts aboard thestation, but won?t be tested for its capacity during the eight days Discoveryis docked at the orbital lab. The shuttle launched to the space station lateSunday to deliver the last piece of the outpost?s backbone-like main truss, afinal pair of U.S. solar arrays and new station crewmember Koichi Wakata ofJapan.

Discoveryalso delivered a vital spare part for the outpost?s urine recycling system andequipment to help eliminate bacteria in a new water dispenser. The repairs areexpected to fix the station?s water recycling system and help the outpostsupport larger crews.

NASAofficials said that installing the spare part to revive the urine recycler tookprecedence over the space toilet test during Discovery?s flight.

A neworbital loo

Deliveredlast November, the space station?s new bathroom fits in a wall space about thesize of a large refrigerator. It is based on a Russian design, cost about $90million and has a complicated-looking instruction panel complete with buttonsand lights.

An emblemon its back wall shows a spacewalking astronaut with a roll of toilet paper inhand and the slogan ?Orbital Outhouse Team.?

?Some finefolks in Russian and the United States built it,? Fincke said.

Thisestation?s new bathroom is installed in the outpost?s American segment. It was awelcome addition to the station, which for nearly a decade housed two andthree-person crews with only one bathroom in its Russian-built segment. (Of the10 astronauts now on station, those who don't use the new bathroom can use theold one or Discovery?s own space commode.)

The newbathroom was installed alongside extra life support, kitchen and exercise gear,also aimed at dealing with larger permanent crews.

So exactlyhow do you go to thebathroom in space? Very carefully, and by the book, Fincke said.

?We havetwo kinds of toilet paper, Russian-style and American-style,? Fincke said inhis video tour. Wet wipes are also available and, like bathrooms on Earth,there?s a handy trash bag and a stash of extra supplies.

Unlike onEarth, there?s no gravity in space to help flush waste down a toilet. Instead,astronauts rely on fans and airflow to carry waste away for disposal.

One vital caution from Fincke: if the big red light pops up,call a station crewmember. It means the urine tanks are full.

?We monitorthose pretty carefully, so hopefully it should never be a surprise to us,?Fincke said in his video. ?But with a lot of people, you never know.?

SPACE.comis providing continuous coverage of STS-119 with reporter Clara Moskowitz atCape Canaveral and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for missionupdates and's live NASA TV video feed.

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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.