BEIJING, July 6 (Xinhuanet) -- Paying 19 million U.S.dollars for a Russian-built international space station toilet system is a bargain compared to building one from scratch, a NASA spokewoman said Thursday.
"It's akin to building a municipal treatment center on Earth," said Lynnette Madison.
Another plus is 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.
The new "loo" is scheduled to arrive at the space station in 2008. It will also offer more privacy for a crew expected to double from three to six by 2009.
The system will be installed on the American side, and the current toilet system on the Russian side will remain in place.
The space station toilet physically resembles those used on Earth, except it has leg restraints and thigh bars to keep astronauts and cosmonauts from floating away. Fans 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.
Crew members using the current toilet system on the Russian side must transfer tanks of their urine to a cargo ship, which burns up in Earth's atmosphere once undocked from the station.
The 19 million dollar toilet system was part of a larger contract valued at 46 million dollars 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.