$19 Million Toilet

NASA is paying $19 million dollars for a toilet for the International Space Station, and they're buying it from a Russian company. NASA officials say that may sound expensive, but it's cheaper than building their own toilet. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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This is not your typical portable toilet that just collects human waste and stores it for disposal later. This Russian made toilet is state of the art and has extra features the old toilet doesn't have. NASA spokesman James Hartsfield describes it as a self-contained sewage treatment plant. It will collect wastes, but it will also recycle urine into drinking water, and it has to do all that in zero gravity.

"I heard an engineer explain once that it's a challenge that would not be unlike taking your toilet at home and bolting onto the ceiling and trying make it work right."

Hartsfield says all those unique complexities and requirements explain the $19 million cost, which sounds like a lot, but it's less than a similar American made toilet would cost, and NASA does try to save money wherever it can.

The new toilet will be delivered and installed on the American side of the space station, but they'll keep the old toilet in place on the Russian side because the space station crew will be doubled over the next several years and it will be needed.

"Right now the maximum crew size on the station is three, for long periods. That'll be doubled to six people, that's always been the plan for the space station, and to do that, a little redundancy, a backup of having two toilet systems is required."

Hartsfield says the larger crew will be needed because the space station itself will be expanded.

"Within the next year we're gonna add two additional laboratories to the station, and the footage inside the station is going to expand tremendously, the first time in quite a while that we've actually expanded the living space on board. And then we expand the crew size to double what it is now."

The new toilet system is scheduled to be delivered to the space station sometime next year. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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