Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Small Comforts of Earth-Bound Life

I can't think of any single thing that makes me appreciate gravity more than stories like this one, concerning recent troubles with the international space station's toilet:

The space station's toilet broke two weeks ago. The problem — confined to the urine side of the commode — forced the orbiting outpost's crew of an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to flush manually with extra water several times a day.

Space shuttle Discovery brought up a new pump for the toilet, as well as the space station's newest room, a $1 billion Japanese lab.

Oleg Kononenko spent more than two hours installing the new 35-pound pump and hoses, then running three tests of the toilet while he talked with specialists at Russian Mission Control, located just outside of Moscow.

The toilet worked normally. It transports urine via air flow to the pump, which separates the gas and liquid.
It truly is comforting to know that here on earth, we can sit on a toilet and conduct our evacuative functions in the usual way. The method we learned as toddlers continues to serve throughout our lives unless and until we're suckered into a space mission without a staff plumber.

We don't have to worry about floating off the toilet; nor do we have to fear that our droppings will float back up. Everything goes reliably down and away. At worst, we have to leave it behind a bush at the side of the road, but thanks to gravity, it stays down.

That's nice. It really is the small things in life that make the difference.

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