NASA launching $23 million female-friendly toilet to International Space Station
Watch live coverage of the launch in the video player above, scheduled for 9:38 p.m. EDT.
After back-to-back military and commercial launch scrubs, NASA hoped for better luck Thursday night with Northrop Grumman's planned launch of a space station-bound Cygnus cargo ship carrying four tons of supplies and equipment, including a new female-friendly $23 million space toilet.
"When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go," quipped Jim Fuller of Collins Aerospace, builder of the zero-gravity toilet.
Mounted atop an Antares 230+ rocket, the unpiloted Cygnus spacecraft was scheduled for liftoff from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Island, Virginia, flight test facility at 9:38 p.m. EDT.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will be released into a preliminary orbit about nine minutes after launch, setting up a weekend rendezvous and berthing at the International Space Station Sunday morning.
The Antares and Cygnus spacecraft are making Northrop Grumman's 14th cargo run to the International Space Station.
The upgraded Cygnus is packed with high-priority science equipment, crew supplies and spare parts, sophisticated camera gear, and even some Estée Lauder face cream for a commercial photo shoot, along with the new Universal Waste Management System toilet.
The zero-gravity toilet is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the potty currently in use in the U.S. segment of the space station. It features multiple design improvements that will be put to the test on the space station before they eventually are built into Orion capsules bound for the moon in NASA's Artemis program.
While saving weight and reducing the toilet's footprint were major goals, "another big part of our project was optimizing the use of the toilet for the female crew," said Melissa McKinley, a NASA project manager.
And that includes better accommodations for what she referred to as "dual ops."
"NASA spent a lot of time working with the crew members and doing evaluations to improve the use of the commode seat and the urine funnel to make it more accommodating to use by female crew members."
Camera gear and a commercial photo shoot
Also on board: a 360-degree virtual reality camera provided by a company that wants to give the public a better sense of what it's like to live and work in space. The camera will be mounted on the station's robot arm to document an upcoming spacewalks from a new perspective.
"We will film a full spacewalk from the moment the astronauts come out of the station to the moment that they go back in, and audiences will feel like they are truly there, up there floating in the vacuum of space alongside the astronauts," said Felix Lajeunesse, co-founder and creative director at Felix and Paul Studios.
"Everything is going to be done remotely, and the astronauts won't have to actually worry about the camera," he said. "We will bring the camera relatively close to the work sites ... so that once you're immersed in virtual reality, you feel like you are right there with them, you feel like you are a participant in the action."
In addition, Estée Lauder is paying NASA to transport 10 containers of New Advanced Night Repair serum for a planned social media photo shoot. The station crew will photograph containers of the company's Advanced Night Repair cream while they float in the multi-window cupola compartment against the blue-and-white backdrop of Earth.
The project is part of an ongoing NASA drive to encourage more private-sector use of low-Earth orbit. According to Bloomberg, the company is paying NASA $128,000 for the out-of-this-world photo shoot.
"It is actually not a sort of shoot (for) a commercial. It is just some pictures that will be taken in the iconic cupola that we'll be using on our social media platform," said Stéphane de La Faverie, group president of The Estée Lauder Companies.
Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA, said station astronauts will not appear in the photo shoot.
"The rules for the astronauts, they can facilitate the photo shoot, they can take the pictures as part of their official duties, but they cannot be seen in the shots," he said. "And they're not going to receive any additional compensation. Ethics rules bar them from doing that. We're paying their salary."
Latest in series of launch attempts
The planned Antares launch Tuesday night followed dual scrubs in Florida during the final 20 seconds of two countdowns within about nine hours of each other.
A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy rocket carrying a classified National Reconnaissance Office spy satellite was grounded just seven seconds before liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station late Wednesday because of an unspecified problem. It's not known when ULA might make another attempt.
Launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying another batch of Starlink internet satellites was aborted 18 seconds before liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center Thursday morning because of unusual readings from a sensor in a ground support system.
SpaceX plans yet another Falcon 9 launch Friday at 9:43 p.m., from a different pad, to put a U.S. Space Force Global Positioning System navigation satellite into orbit. Based on an updated Air Force weather forecast, the Starlink flight could get another chance Saturday morning.