One of two toilets on the International Space Station is apparently broken, NASA announced Sunday.
It's too early to tell if the toilet has a serious problem, or can be fixed quickly, space station flight director Brian Smith said.
The station is currently host to 13 people - a record number of crewmembers onboard at once. While that toilet, which is in the U.S. Destiny laboratory, is down, astronauts can use the other almost identical facility in the Russian Zvezda service module, as well as the toilet onboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which has been docked since Friday.
"We don?t yet know the extent of the problem," Smith said. "It could turn out to be of no consequence at all. It could turn out to be significant."
Station crews are investigating the symptoms of the balky toilet, which appears to have a flooded liquid separator. This $19 million commode was delivered to the station by the STS-126 shuttle mission in November 2008.
Mission managers aren't sure yet how long the astronauts can last with only two toilets. The station recently expanded its crew size from three to six people, putting further strain on the existing facilities.
If needed, astronauts can use a bag system similar to what Apollo astronauts had to use, instead of a toilet.
The shuttle bathroom is also further constrained by the fact that it can't dump any waste water while docked to the station because the water could pose a contamination risk to the new Japanese exposed science facility that was installed yesterday near the shuttle's perch.
For now, this is not a serious problem, Smith said.
"For right now having all the shuttle crew members using the facilities on the orbiter is not going to be an issue," Smith said. "If it proves to be long term then we'll readdress the situation and see what we have to do. In the short term there is no issue."
The space station has had toilet troubles before.
The other bathroom in the Russian segment of the space station broke last year when a pump failed that enabled the toilet to collect liquid waste. That issue was fixed in June 2008 when astronauts installed a replacement pump delivered by the shuttle Discovery's STS-124 mission.
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