NASA’s $19 Million Toilet

Russian model recycles urine into drinking water

If you think $1,300 is a lot to pay for Kohler’s new C3-200 toilet seat, how about $19 million for a toilet that doesn’t even have a heated seat or remote control? That’s what NASA has agreed to shell out for a space potty on the International Space Station.

The new toilet is similar to one already in use in the station’s Russian-built Zvezda Service Module. A second toilet is needed because NASA and its international partners plan to double the size of the station crew from three to six in 2009.

NASA is buying the toilet from the Russian aerospace company S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Public Corporation, also known as RSC Energia. NASA claims it is cheaper to buy a toilet from Russia than to build its own.

What makes the toilet so expensive? A NASA spokeswoman claims it’s like a miniature municipal water-treatment system. Unlike the NASA toilet aboard the space shuttle, the Russian model recycles urine into drinking water. The urine enters the toilet tank through a funnel attached to a hose.

The toilet is not the only item that NASA is buying from the Russians. The space agency will spend an additional $27 million for other equipment, including a pump used to conserve air when the crew exits through the airlock for a spacewalk. The contract also covers engineering support.

The existing toilet in the Russian section of the space station has broken down several times, so astronauts will be happy to have a backup on the American side. Until then, the crew has to use the toilet in the docked Soyuz capsule for bathroom emergencies. —Dawn Stover