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How astronauts fixed a bathroom leak on the International Space Station

The International Space Station. (NASA/Released)
February 25, 2019

When there is a plumbing problem 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station, the response is similar to what any American would take at home.

NASA astronauts found this out when they were trying to set up some added privacy enclosures in the bathroom and loosened a water connector, spewing two and a half gallons of water all over, according to The Atlantic.

The crew corrected the problem and used towels to sop up the mess, then recorded the incident in their daily logs.

This just brings to light some of the other issues with daily activities considering that when gravity and the high rate of speed are factored in, everything reacts like a zero gravity environment.

Another thing to consider is how water acts with microgravity. The water turns into what looks like soap bubbles, but not the kind that pops and disappears like most people are accustomed to.

Tom Jones, a former NASA astronaut and the author of “Ask the Astronaut: A Galaxy of Astonishing Answers to Your Questions on Spaceflight” tried to explain what would have happened. “If it was a slow leak, it would have built up into a big, undulating blob that would have drifted off or crept along the wall with surface tension. If it was under a higher pressure and it was coming out at a fast rate, it would spray and make droplets go flying across the cabin,” Jones explained.

On Earth, a similar spill that would have been cleaned up with towels and that would have been the end of the story.

In space, the water is recycled even after it was dried up with the towels. The water would have evaporated from the towels, then retained by the cabin’s humidity and the temperature control system, and finally added back to the portable water tank.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrated how leaks are cleaned up in the video below:

The use of water aboard the ISS is very different from that on Earth. The toilets don’t use water, and there are no showers or faucets.

The crew uses a device resembling a squirt gun when they require water to wash up or brush their teeth.

When it is time to use the restroom, urinating takes place in a funnel-like hose that has a suction device attached to eliminate the urine. The urine is recycled and converted into drinking water.

If it is time for a bowel movement, the process is a bit more tedious.

The astronaut must sit in a plastic seat, feet in stirrups, on top of a shaft. The waste goes into a sealed container and sent off to departing cargo ships that disintegrate in the atmosphere.