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NASA's new $23 million space toilet is ready for launch

NASA's new space toilet for the International Space Station undergoes testing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA's new space toilet for the International Space Station undergoes testing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
(Image: © NASA)

NASA is launching a new space toilet to the International Space Station next week for astronauts to test out before it’s used on future missions to the moon or Mars. 

The $23 million toilet system, known as the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the toilet currently in use on the space station, and can support larger crews. The toilet will launch to the space station aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo capsule on Sept. 29, as part of a routine resupply mission. 

Once on the space station, astronauts will test how the new toilet performs in the microgravity environment on the station. The system will be installed adjacent to the current toilet in Node 3 of the space station, NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Logistics Reduction project manager Melissa McKinley said during a news conference Thursday (Sept. 24).

Related: International Space Station at 20: A photo tour

Expedition 63 astronauts Chris Cassidy and Ivan Vagner have started preparing for the space toilet's delivery. The crew will use the orbiting lab's Canadarm2 robotic arm to capture the Cygnus spacecraft, according to a statement from the space agency. 

"The toilet was designed for exploration and it builds on previous spaceflight toilet design," McKinley said during the press conference. "The big key to the exploration piece of the design is looking to optimize mass volume and power usage, which are all very important components of a spacecraft design."

An annotated view of NASA's new Universal Waste Management System for the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

The space toilet's advanced design includes a urine funnel and seat that is created to be more accommodating for female crew members. It also features a 3D-printed titanium dual fan separator, which was developed by Collins Aerospace and creates a strong airflow that, in lieu of gravity, helps to pull the astronauts’ urine and waste into the toilet. 

The titanium design also improves upon the existing pretreat system used to collect and treat astronauts' urine before it is processed and recycled for reclaimed water. 

A NASA team member demonstrates lifting the urine hose out from its cradled position like a crew member would for use. A funnel (not shown) would be attached to the open end of this hose and be easily replaced or removed for disinfection. (Image credit: NASA)

The UWMS measures roughly 28 inches (71 centimeters) tall, which is comparable to the compact toilets used on campers, McKinley said during the conference. The toilet also has an automatic starting system, rather than an on and off switch like current toilet models on the space station. 

The new system will be used routinely by the crew on the space station and tested over the next three years to make sure everything works as planned. Prior to launch, the system was tested in environments designed to simulate that of the space station, NASA officials have said.

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  • Kutulu
    Please tell me that this machine has been dubbed "The Wolowitz"
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    I hope once the new toilet arrives the astronauts will be "flushed" with success..... :)
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    Space toilets are always the butt of jokes!
    Butt seriously this is a basic need that needs a reliable mechanism especially if you want to goto Mars. When it breaks down the nearest plumber could be seventy million miles away and we haven’t got there yet.
    Reply
  • newtons_laws
    Lovethrust said:
    Space toilets are always the butt of jokes!
    Butt seriously this is a basic need that needs a reliable mechanism especially if you want to goto Mars. When it breaks down the nearest plumber could be seventy million miles away and we haven’t got there yet.

    Agreed. And as payload is expensive you can't afford to just throw away the water in the toilet waste, that's why as far as I know aboard the ISS the urine is re-cycled to produce fresh water and water is also extracted from the solid waste leaving just dry waste.
    Reply