Saturday, May 31, 2008

Oh, Dear...

I don't believe that I've ever said this before in this space, but in my opinion the three worst things that can happen to a manned spacecraft are, in order:

(1) A collision with another spacecraft,

(2) A fire or explosion on board the spacecraft, and

(3) A major toilet malfunction.

You might believe that my #3 is a bit too high on the list, but I beg to differ. Down here, if your toilet backs up, you always have the option of going up to the local gas station, or borrowing a neighbor's, or in extremis sneaking out to the back yard.

You can't do any of those when you're in a spacecraft. Stepping out for a leak isn't just bad form, it's fatal.

Bearing that in mind, you can easily imagine why this item is of such urgent alarm to NASA.

"Ah, Houston, we've got a problem ... The can's broke." Yeah, it's not quite as urgent as the problem on Apollo 13 was, but as far as crew morale goes, it's still a biggie. Having to do your business into a Ziploc baggie after getting used to the high life of having a more or less real toilet is probably a spirit-breaker.

The good news is that NASA has a quick-turnaround fix. If all goes well, Discovery will take flight this afternoon with a Japanese laboratory module, and just as eagerly anticipated (at least for the crew), spare parts to fix the toilet. Spacemen won't let their brothers go without a working toilet if they can help it.

Well, American spacemen won't, anyway ... If it were the Russians in charge, they might tell 'em to man it up and deal. They're a bit hard-core that way.

[Addendum, 4Jun08: Operation House Call is a success! The new parts have been installed, and everyone's very, very happy ... Oh yeah, and the new lab's been installed, too.]

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