Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Space Poop

One of the challenges a designer should think about is that the real end-user may not fit the assumptions. Take the toilets on the International Space Station, for instance. From Pravda:

Until recently, Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts did not distinguish between their toilets and used the one that was closer. However, the food, which space researchers eat, differs greatly. The Russian space food is more savoury, more natural and more diverse, which US astronauts acknowledge too.

The menu of the Russian crew has over 300 dishes. Here is the daily menu of Valery Korzun, the commander:

Breakfast: curds and nuts, mashed potatoes with nuts, apple-quince chip sticks, sugarless coffee and vitamins.

Lunch: jellied pike perch, borsch with meat, goulash with buckwheat, bread, black currant juice, sugarless tea.

Supper: rice and meat, broccoli and cheese, nuts, tea with sugar.

Second supper: dried beef, cashew nuts, peaches, grape juice.

It just so happens that the consistency of fecal matter turns out to be rather thick against the background of such a diet.

The menu of US astronauts is nutritious as well, but it looks more like a diet ration and presumably consists of exotic fruit, vegetables, sea food and low-fat meat. That is why, their waste is much softer. Engineers took account of these peculiarities when designing the sewage system for the ISS. It just so happens that the solid Russian waste ruined the US toilets in space.

The astronauts were sick and tired of toilet breakdowns and unpleasant odors. NASA was eventually forced to order a toilet system from Russia. US tax payers paid $19 million for the space toilet. The new construction was installed in the US department of the ISS.

(H/T The Corner)

I don't really care if the story is completely factual or not. The fact remains that end-users seldom care about the design specs, and will find novel ways to use and abuse products over time.

Cross-posted at Thwarting Murphy.