ISS toilet leak reminds us that everything is harder in space

Nearly 10 liters of water leaked as astronauts installed a new enclosure.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture | Video Games | Breaking News
Sean Keane
2 min read

This space toilet looks pretty innocuous, doesn't it? Now imagine cleaning its leaking contents in microgravity.


Turns out you deal with toilet leaks in space the same way you would on Earth.

The crew of the International Space Station had to use towels to soak up about 9.5 liters of leaked water, NASA wrote in a daily summary report for Feb. 1.

The incident took place as the crew installed a new double-stall enclosure -- which divides the toilet from the hygiene compartment -- in the station's Tranquility module (which, at the time, was probably anything but).

"Astronauts detached a connection point to the potable water system and about two-and-a-half gallons of water leaked from the system. As anyone who has worked on plumbing in their own home knows, these types of things sometimes happen," a NASA spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"Flight controllers evaluated the module's systems and didn't find any damage after the water was cleaned up. Astronauts then finished installing the new double stall enclosure in preparation for a new toilet system to be delivered to the space station in 2020."

Watch this: The ISS celebrates 20 years of life in space

The module holds life-support systems, like the one used to recycle water, and astronauts get exercise on a treadmill and weight-lifting machine. Back in 2016, we were treated to a 360-degree view of it.

Even when ISS loos function normally, relieving oneself isn't quite as straightforward as it is on Earth. Astronaut Jack Fischer expressed his dread at the prospect in 2017.

"Unlike most things, you just can't train for that on the ground," he said. "So I approach my space-toilet activities with respect, preparation and a healthy dose of sheer terror."

Last year, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson -- who spent 665 days in space over her career -- told Business Insider how much she missed space, but not using the ISS toilet.

"Number two... is more challenging because you're trying to hit a pretty small target," she said.

First published Feb. 6 at 9:14 a.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 7 at 7:45 a.m PT.: Adds Whitson's recollection.

What life is like on the International Space Station (pictures)

See all photos