NASA launched a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket from its Wallops Island facility on Friday evening; the launch was visible across much of eastern and central Virginia. The rocket is sending a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station with a $23 million experimental toilet, other hardware, and food resupplies including garlic, apples, brie cheese and dark chocolate covered cranberries.
Barely 100 pounds and just 28 inches tall, the new toilet is roughly half as big as the two Russian-built ones at the space station. It’s more camper-size to fit into the NASA Orion capsules that will carry astronauts to the moon in a few years. The toilet is made of titanium, and features a taller, tilted seat designed to better accommodate women.
“Cleaning up a mess is a big deal. We don’t want any misses or escapes,” said Johnson Space Center Project Manager Melissa McKinley.
Station residents will test it out for a few months. If the shakedown goes well, the toilet will be open for regular business. It’s packed inside a cargo ship that should have blasted off late Thursday from Wallops Island. But the launch was aborted with just two minutes remaining in the countdown.
Also in the 8,000-pound shipment are air tanks to make up for a slight space station leak and a cinematic 360-degree VR camera for you-are-there-spacewalk shots. Perhaps the most unique payload is Estee Lauder’s newest wrinkle serum. The cosmetics company is paying $128,000 for an out-of-this-world photo shoot, part of NASA’s push to open the final frontier to marketing, industry and tourism.
Don’t count on perfumed aromas, though, to counter bathroom odors. The serum is fragrance-free and the 10 bottles will remain sealed until returned to earth early next year.
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Marcia Dunn is a reporter for The Associated Press. The Virginia Star’s Eric Burk contributed to this report.