Latest delivery to space station is a $23M toilet

Published 8:32 am Saturday, October 10, 2020

I will bring you up to date on some of the space news that has not been covered by the national news, at least not that I have seen.
The latest cargo vessel that has reached the International Space Station was the four-ton Cygnus space cargo ship. It is 58 feet long and was sent up from the NASA space port on Wallops Island, Virginia.
It was built by Northrop Grumman and has some interesting cargo aboard; one item was a Universal Waste Management System, which cost $23 million. It is made of titanium.
If you have not guessed by now, it is commonly known as a toilet.
It flushes with air, rather than water, and is more convenient for females. Since there is no gravity to pull the waste products from the body, the air flow does it. The urine is collected and purified for drinking. The toilet that is presently used will be retained.
An upcoming event in 2021 is the launching of a new space telescope.
It is the James Webb telescope named for an early administrator of NASA who shepherded the early space adventures up to the beginning of the Apollo II project. He left after the Apollo I burned.
This telescope will extend the reach of the Hubble telescope. The orbit will be about one million miles from earth.
It will have capability to see images in infrared spectrum and looking back to near the beginning of time. Now, that is beyond my understanding.
It will also be able to have a closer look at planets orbiting other stars to try to find some that would possibly have life on them.
The launching was postponed because of the virus, as was everything else. NASA expects it to be launched Oct. 31, 2021 from the European Spaceport in French Guiana, which is located in South America on the northeast coast.
It has recently been cleared for launching by passing the sound and vibration testing similar to what it will experience upon the rocket trip.
A little more about its physical size. It will have a sun shield the size of a tennis court and a mirror which is 21.8 feet across. This is three times the diameter of the Hubble telescope.
The estimated cost is $9.8 billion. Let’s hope that the Antares rocket has a successful flight.
According to Space News, SpaceX, and I suppose it was Elon Musk’s idea, but there is a study proposed to determine the feasibility of transporting emergency supplies via rocket to any place on earth within an hour.
SpaceX and XArc believe that they can deliver as much as 90 tons via a rocket this way.
There are a lot of questions about the feasibility of the idea such as where it can land and can the cargo survive heavy G-forces on launching and landing.
I don’t think we will see this happening very soon since the cost is millions of dollars per trip.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at

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