Space Station bathroom renovation launching on next cargo supply run

It’s a home makeover but 200 miles above Earth: The next resupply delivery mission to the International Space Station will include a new re-designed commode for the astronauts.

A cargo re-supply launch is scheduled to liftoff on a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket Sept. 29 from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility carrying supplies for the astronauts, research, hardware and a marketing experiment for the makeup company Estee Lauder.

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Loaded up among nearly 8,000 pounds of supplies, the Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft will also deliver a new “Universal Waste Management System,” also known as a space toilet, to the floating laboratory in space and home to astronauts 365 days a year.

The system actually has two important purposes on the ISS. Outside the bathroom needs, it also cleans water to be used again by the astronaut

“We recycle about 90% of all water-based liquids on the space station, including urine and sweat,” NASA astronaut Jessica Meir said in a news release. “What we try to do aboard the space station is mimic elements of Earth’s natural water cycle to reclaim water from the air. And when it comes to our urine on ISS, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!”

The engineers behind the low-gravity loo spoke about the technology during a press call Thursday with reporters.

The new toilet design will be used on the ISS and for NASA’s second Artemis mission to the moon with astronauts. According to government contracts, NASA awarded contracts totaling more than $23 million to design and build the new system.

The new toilet is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the current potty on the ISS. It’s about the same size as what you might see in a camper, according to Melissa McKinley, NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Logistics Reduction project manager.

The new toilet has also been optimized for female astronauts.

“NASA spent a lot of time working with the crew members and doing evaluations to improve the use of the commode seat and the urine funnel to make it more accommodating to the use by female crew members,” McKinley said.

The new toilet will have a fan that helps pull urine and feces away from the body because, without gravity, humans need a little help.

“We have gravity that helps pull the feces and urine away from our body and into the toilet,” Collins Aerospace engineer Jim Fuller said. “In space where we have microgravity, we don’t have that luxury. So this dual-fan separator actually creates the motive force by creating a strong airflow that helps pull the urine and feces away from the body.

It’s been a while since the space station got a full bathroom upgrade.

“We’re really excited about this new toilet,” Fuller said. “I don’t think we’ve developed a new toilet in a couple of decades.”

The launch is scheduled for 10:27 p.m. EDT Tuesday and the astronauts should expect the cargo capsule to dock less than 24 hours later.

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