There are some things you just never think twice about. One of those things is bathroom facilities in space. Well, it appears that the only toilet in the Russian-built Zvezda living module of the international space station is broken. The astronauts will have to settle for a jerry-rigged solution until repairs can be completed. (You just can't make this stuff up.)
NBC News analyst James Oberg explains:
Long a subject of bathroom humor, these high-tech commodes must use fan-driven air flow instead of gravity to transport human waste away from a crew member’s body and into a sanitary receptacle. Early spaceflights didn’t even have this method, but relied on bags with sticky openings — and an emergency supply of such bags is indeed aboard the space station.
[... curiouser and curiouser ...]
A major new unit, intended to allow the expansion of crew size from three to six members, is being prepared for launch late this year. Until then, the current hardware — and the supply of "Apollo bags" for fecal collection — may have to suffice. And if previous experience is any guide, the Russian engineers and cosmonauts will find McGyver-type solutions to make it work. [emphasis mine]
Oberg's right, of course. This is no laughing matter; it's serious business. But, really -- who'd have thought?
The toilet in the Zvezda Module is reportedly similar in design to the one in the HabLab Module. You may view pictures of it here at urinal.net. (no, seriously)