MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The International Space Station will soon be getting a second bathroom. NASA is buying a new toilet. And as NPR's Nell Boyce reports, it's really, really expensive.

NELL BOYCE: There's one question that astronauts get asked all the time. Here is TV icon, "Mister Rogers," in 1971.

(Soundbite of TV show "Mister Rogers")

Mr. FRED ROGERS (TV Host): (As Mister Rogers) How do you go to the potty when you're flying to the moon? A very young friend of mine asked that and was concerned about it.

Major ALFRED WORDEN (Astronaut): Well, I think that's a very, very good question.

BOYCE: Astronaut Alfred Worden said it's just like on Earth.

Maj. WORDEN: The only difference is that when we make a B.M., we collect it in a plastic bag.

BOYCE: The first astronauts had to make do with things like simple bags and crude urine tubes. But since Skylab in 1973, our nation has put toilets in orbit. NASA is buying its new toilet from the Russians. Lots of news reports said it will cost $19 million, but NASA says the cost is actually more like 15 million.

Mr. JAMES HARTSFIELD (Spokesman, NASA): It is really not your household toilet. It's a very complex piece of machinery.

BOYCE: James Hartsfield is a spokesperson at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He says it's complicated when there's no gravity to pull things down.

Mr. HARTSFIELD: It's similar to if you took your household toilet and bolted it onto the ceiling of your bathroom and then try to make it work.

(Soundbite of NASA ad)

Unidentified Man: We're here at the space potty with my friend, Charlie Spencer(ph). Charlie, I'm hoping you can tell me how this works.

Mr. CHARLIE SPENCER: Have a seat, Phil(ph).

BOYCE: NASA's Web site has an educational video. It shows how astronauts strap themselves onto the seat. Flowing air gets things going in the right direction.

Unidentified Man: Right. So suction is how it works and this must for liquid, I'm guessing.

Mr. SPENCER: That's correct.

Unidentified Man: Whoa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: I feel like I'm getting suctioned right now.

BOYCE: Now, NASA's new toilet won't just dispose of waste. It will also recycle some of it. James Hartsfield says urine will become drinkable water.

Mr. HARTSFIELD: It is like the whole sewage treatment plant, but made portable and compact for space flight.

BOYCE: He also says the space station's crew is about to grow from three to six. With that many people, NASA doesn't want to have just one toilet on board because even in space toilets can break.

Nell Boyce, NPR News.

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