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NASA to take big budget toilet to space

10 July, 2007

NASA is doing something it never did since its inception. The American space agency is paying $19 million for a Russian-built international space station toilet system, which is a bargain compared to building one from scratch.

The new Russian loo is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2008 and will be installed on the American side, while the current toilet system on the Russian side will remain in place. The $19-million toilet system is part of a larger contract valued at $46 million that NASA signed this week with RSC Energia, a Russian aerospace company. The extra equipment includes software updates for the station's inventory management system, a spare air pump, and engineering support for a mechanism which allows space shuttles to dock with the space station, said a report.

The toilet system would offer more privacy for a crew expected to double from three to six by 2009. Reports added that astronauts are familiar with how it works because it's similar to one already in place at the space station. The new system will be able to transfer urine to a device that can produce drinking water.

A report quoting a NASA official said that the space agency opted to buy one as building one would be akin to building a municipal treatment centre on Earth.

The space station toilet, with leg restraints and thigh bars to keep astronauts and cosmonauts from floating away, is equipped with fans that suck waste into the commode. Crew members also have individual urine funnels which are attached to hoses, and the urine is deposited into a wastewater tank.

The report added that crew members who use the current toilet system on the Russian side will have to transfer tanks of their urine to a cargo ship, which burns up in Earth's atmosphere once undocked from the station.





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