On Saturday, October 3rd at 01:16 UTC, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket launched the Cygnus NG-14 mission from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops, Virginia. This was the fifteenth flight of a Cygnus and the fourteenth flight to resupply the International Space Station.
The NG-14 Cygnus was named the S. S. Kalpana Chawla, in memory of the NASA mission specialist who died with her crewmates on Columbia in 2003. According to Northrop Grumman, she was selected “in honor of her prominent place in history as the first woman of Indian descent to go to space”.
This image shows the Cygnus spacecraft approaching the Canadarm on its arrival at the ISS.
There was a lot of cargo onboard this Cygnus — 3,551 kilograms (equivalent to 12.6 brown bears) — making it the second heaviest cargo mission to-date. There were 1,217 kilograms of science investigations, including:
- The Multi-Needle Langmuir Probe (m-LNP) that will measure ionospheric plasma densities for the University of Oslo and a Norwegian company called Eidsvoll Electronics. It will be installed on a platform on the outside of the European Columbus module
- ELaNa 31, which will deploy three CubeSats from the ISS.
- SAFFIRE V, the fifth Spacecraft Fire Experiment, will safely examine the process of combustion, smoke behavior, and flame-spreading in a microgravity environment. This is its second-to-last flight to orbit.
- Advanced Night Repair, which is an Estée Lauder product that will be photographed with the Earth as a backdrop for social media and marketing campaigns. This is a new NASA program that dedicates 5% of space station cargo capacity and crew time to commercial marketing activities. Estée Lauder will reimburse NASA around US$128,000 for the resources used in the night serum marketing initiative, according to Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development of NASA.
- Space Rated Camera, which will be maneuvered by Canadarm 2 to record extravehicular spacewalks
- And the Universal Waste Management System.
The Universal Waste Management System is a twenty-three million dollar titanium space toilet. It’s about 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the toilet currently on the space station, making it roughly the same size as the toilet you might find in a camper.
Melissa McKinley, a NASA systems project manager, said in an interview on a Canadian radio program that “The goal there for our team is to make it so that the crew can focus on other things they need to do during space travel and make this a more comfortable and convenient way for them to deal with these bodily functions.”
In addition to being more comfortable and easier to use, clean, and maintain, it is also said to be better suited for female crew members than the existing commode on the ISS.
Being easier to clean is a big deal because the current one, well, smells. According to a tweet from Orion capsule engineering lead Jason Hutt: “If you want to recreate that used spacecraft smell, take a couple of dirty diapers, some microwave food wrappers, a used airsickness bag, [and] a few sweaty towels, put them in an old school metal trash can and let it bake in the summer sun for 10 days. Then open the [lid] and breathe deep.”
The new model comes with a bacteria filter that should help mitigate this problem. In fact, according to Melissa McKinley, “It’s been said that the air coming out of the toilet is some of the nicest smelling air on the spacecraft.”.
We’ll give NASA astronaut Jessica Meir the final word on this subject: “…when it comes to our urine on ISS, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!”