The most newsworthy toilet in the universe
July 20, 2009

The main toilet aboard the International Space Station has broken down at a time when 13 astronauts are trying to share the station's limited facilities. The ISS had other wastewater-disposal problems last May, so the repeated breakdowns are becoming more than just a simple aggravation. Even though it probably causes most people to giggle at first (after all, the thought of one of the world's most complex and sophisticated aeronautical systems being hampered by the stellar equivalent of an outhouse is pretty funny), there's actually a very serious story here, and it's of more than just passing importance. Proper sanitation is absolutely essential to the function of any advanced civilization -- and there are still billions of people living on Earth who still lack adequate sanitation and water purification. When we see the problems on the ISS as a microcosm for the problems of the many people living here, we come into a better understanding of just how valuable modern wastewater disposal and treatment are to keeping society healthy and orderly. The problems aboard the space station also hint at just how important it will be to ensure that any systems used for an eventual manned mission to Mars.

July 2009
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last revised July 2009