In the beginning of July, NASA made deal for for a new toilet system for the American side of the international space station.They said that the $19 million they will pay for it is cheaper than if they were to build their own.
The new one will be Russian-made and be an upgrade of the existing system on the Russian side of the space station. The astronauts are familiar with the one there, so there is the added feature of not having to retrain them in toilet usage. It will be hooked to another device that will be able to produce drinking water and provide more privacy than the "older" Russian model. The privacy they say will be needed since they expect the space station crew to grow from the current three to six people by 2009.
The $19 million for the "fancy" new toilet system is part of a larger $46 million contract NASA signed with RSC Energia, a Russian areospace company. The contract includes software updates for the station's inventory management system, a spare air pump and engineering support for the docking mechanism.
Now I know the numbers sound steep but this is space and this is NASA, it isn't as if they can go on down to mall and pick these things up and toss them on the next shuttle. On July 31 though, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that RSC Energia's company chief said that it is now under emergency administration to fight off bankruptcy. It was only in April that Nikolai Sevestianov, who headed the company, said that they were working on a transport system that could lead to the industrial developement of the moon.
RSC Energia is the main Russian contractor for the international space station and it also makes satellites and rockets. Energia's company chairman said that the "financial idealism" that existed in the company hadn't led to flights to the moon but rather towards bankruptcy. At the moment, it is not clear how this may affect Russia's space program but I think though, there have to be a few people scrambling at NASA, checking to see if they can get a good price on what they had ordered on Ebay. I wonder if they can prevent bankruptcy, will we hear a revision of one of those classic songs....... "I'm just a moonminers daughter" sung in Russian.