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Wed, May 28, 2008

Expedition 17 Crew Stymied By Irksome Plumbing Problem

Discovery Astronauts May Be Called On To Fix ISS Toilet

The crew of the upcoming STS-124 mission to the International Space Station may soon have another objective added to their roster: they may be called upon to repair the station's malfunctioning toilet.

The Associated Press reports the station's Russian-made liquid-waste collection device has been on the fritz since Friday, when a fan motor stopped working as one of the station's three crewmembers was using it. The toilet has worked intermittently ever since.

"Like any home anywhere, the importance of having a working bathroom is obvious," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

This isn't the first time the toilet has broken, though this is the longest the device has been inoperative, added Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier. Russian officials are at a loss as to why the seven-year-old device broke down, and the station's crew has been unable to repair it so far.

Though, thankfully, the solid waste-collecting portion of the toilet continues to function normally, the Expedition 17 crew has had to get creative in the absence of a reliable... astro-urinal. At first, the crew used the toilet on their Soyuz return capsule, but it filled up quickly. Now, the crew is employing the tried-and-true, albeit undignified, plastic baggie method.

Needless to say, the crew is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the shuttle Discovery -- and, the shuttle's toilet -- at the ISS. As ANN has reported, STS-124 is scheduled to blast off Saturday. The orbiter will dock at the ISS on Monday... at which time its astronauts may also try their hand at fixing the number one problem onboard the station.

Cloutier adds NASA is also considering taking the unusual step of having some toilet parts flown over from Russia, to place inside the orbiter on the pad.

There is a problem with that plan, however. Discovery's payload capacity is already maxed out with the 32,000-pound second segment of the Japanese Kibo laboratory. That segment is so big, in fact, that the orbiter's robotic boom sensor system was taken off Discovery to make room for the massive assembly.

Stay tuned.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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