New space station toilet 'out of order'

The new toilet in the U.S. Destiny lab module broke down Sunday, forcing the station crew to use a single Russian toilet and the Endeavour astronauts to use the shuttle's.

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Houston--The new toilet in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module aboard the International Space Station broke down Sunday, forcing the combined 13-member shuttle-station crew to share a single Russian toilet and one aboard the shuttle Endeavour until the problem is resolved.

"When you get a second, if you could put an out-of-service note on the WHC (waste and hygiene compartment) and advise the crew members that station crew members will have to use the (Russian toilet) and shuttle crew members on the shuttle until further notice," Hal Getzelman radioed from mission control.

European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne acknowledged the instructions and asked if engineers had an estimate on how long it might take to get the toilet back in operation.

The Russian-inspired toilet in the U.S. Destiny lab module aboard the International Space Station. The toilet broke down Sunday. NASA

"No, we don't have a good estimate," Getzelman said. "What happened, the pre-treat (chemical), we think, flooded the pump separator and we may have got some fluid where we didn't want it and it'll take us awhile to work through a procedure to recover."

"OK, Hal," De Winne replied. "I have some (time) available the entire day, I'm available to work the procedure."

"OK, we may have some quicker actions to inspect, but we'll advise you when those are ready."

About a half-hour later, Getzelman told De Winne to don safety goggles and protective gear before opening access panels to determine if critical components were hot due to a chemical reaction related to the initial problem. De Winne reported the pump module was not particularly hot to the touch and the fluid lines looked normal.

The space station is equipped with a Russian toilet in the Zvezda command module and the new Russian-inspired, U.S.-supplied WHC in the Destiny module. The U.S. potty is tied into the U.S. segment's water recycling system, which converts urine and condensate into fresh water.

For Endeavour's mission, four of the shuttle astronauts were asked to use the station facilities to avoid waste water dumps from the shuttle during the docked phase of the mission to avoid contaminating a newly installed Japanese experiment platform that was attached to the Kibo lab module Saturday.

"Previously, with the shuttle docked to the ISS, it would be very common to have a waste water dump at some point during the mission," said Flight Director Brian Smith. "But due to the proximity of the nozzle on the orbiter where that waste water is vented relative to the exposed facility, there is a concern for contaminating some of the (payload) attach mechanisms around that exposed facility. So we no longer will be doing waste water dumps while the orbiter is docked.

"What that means is, we need to manage the level of the waste water tank inside the orbiter and make sure we don't fill it before the orbiter undocks. Once the orbiter undocks and flies away, it's free to do a waste water dump. So we're just managing the level of the tank until we get to undocking."

In the near term, Smith said, "all the shuttle crew members using the facilities on the orbiter is not going to be an issue. If this problem proves to be long term, multiple days...then we'll re-address the situation and see what we have to do. But in the short term, there's no issue."

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About the author

    Bill Harwood has been covering the U.S. space program full-time since 1984, first as Cape Canaveral bureau chief for United Press International and now as a consultant for CBS News. He has covered more than 125 shuttle missions, every interplanetary flight since Voyager 2's flyby of Neptune, and scores of commercial and military launches. Based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Harwood is a devoted amateur astronomer and co-author of "Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia." You can follow his frequent status updates at the CBS News Space page.

     

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