Of all of the sophisticated technology powering the International Space Station, nothing brings the frustration of modern living back home to those of us on Earth more than a report of a broken toilet. Only the astronauts can’t make an after-work run to the home repair store; they have to devise creative solutions while they wait for Saturday’s launch of the space shuttle Discovery to bring them repair parts.
In the gravity-free environment of the ISS, the waste collection system uses fans to push excrement and urine into storage containers. The fan for the solid waste collector is fine, but the liquid waste fan has given up the ghost with “a loud noise.” After an unsuccessful attempt at replacing particular devices in the system, the crew was told by Russian mission control to use the toilet in the Soyuz capsule, which is docked at the ISS as an escape pod. But like an RV in the driveway, it has a limited capacity.
In the meantime, NASA is reporting that the crew is “bypassing the troublesome hardware” with a “special receptacle” attached to the toilet. For those of us who have jury-rigged our own home repairs, we know there’s no shame in having to go in plastic bags until the plumber finally shows up.