Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques helps repair leaky space toilet

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As proof that life as an astronaut isn’t always glamorous, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques’ duties aboard the International Space Station recently included fixing a leaking space toilet, according to NASA.

The space agency said the crew had to spring into action last week after astronauts accidentally detached a connection point to the water system while upgrading a restroom in the U.S. portion of the station.

About 9.5 litres of water leaked during the Feb. 1 incident and had to be mopped up with towels by the astronauts, a spokesman confirmed.

« As anyone who has worked on plumbing in their own home knows, these types of things sometimes happen, » spokesman Gary Jordan wrote in an email.

« NASA flight controllers in mission control Houston identified and isolated where the water leaked out, and astronauts reattached the connection point and quickly soaked up the water with towels. »

Saint-Jacques and American astronaut Anne McClain then installed a new enclosure in preparation for a new toilet system providing enhanced privacy, which is set to arrive at the space station in 2020.

Jordan says the leak was stopped quickly and doesn’t appear to have caused any damage to the station.

Saint-Jacques, 49, arrived at the space station on Dec. 3 for a mission that is expected to last until June.

His stated list of tasks includes conducting scientific experiments, carrying out robotics tasks and testing new technologies. Space plumbing was not mentioned on the list.

The Canadian Space Agency said it was aware of a leak in the water system on the station, but did not confirm Saint-Jacques’ involvement.

It’s not the first time the space station has experienced a problem with its bathrooms. One of two commodes aboard the international space station broke down in 2009 when the pump separator apparently flooded, according to The Associated Press.

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‘To us, it’s a miracle’: Churchill residents celebrate repair of railway washouts

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Churchillians are getting ready to celebrate the completion of repairs to their community’s lifeline. 

The Town of Churchill in Manitoba said in a statement Sunday morning that after slightly more than a month of work, washouts on the Hudson Bay Railway between Gillam and Churchill have been repaired. 

There’s still work to be done before rail service resumes, and it’s not clear whether the line will be operational before winter arrives. 

Nonetheless, residents say news the last washout had been fixed is a big cause to celebrate.

« To us, it’s a miracle and we’re so, so happy that this company took over and they actually got onto the rail line right away and started fixing it right away. It’s amazing. It’s a great crew, » said Rhoda de Meulles, a Churchill resident who owns the town’s hardware store with her husband.

When the track can handle service vehicles — expected to happen in the next few days, according to rail line owners Arctic Gateway — crew members will make it to Churchill. 

de Meulles said when they do, the town will hold a day-long festival to celebrate and thank them.

« People are just ecstatic, » said Joe Stover, a longtime Churchill resident, who called the news a significant milestone for the community.

‘Felt like we were kept hostage’

de Meulles said when the rail line shut down, she felt trapped in her own community.

« We always felt like we were being kept hostage because we couldn’t do anything — couldn’t go anywhere, couldn’t see family, nothing, but at least now we know that something is going to happen. »

« We have a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend as the final washout has been repaired allowing the test vehicles and crews to pass to Churchill to continue the surfacing and rail repairs beyond the washouts, » said Murad Al-Katib, a spokesperson for the Arctic Gateway Group that owns the rail line.

Al-Katib said the conglomerate remains hopeful weather conditions will remain favourable. A statement on the homepage of the group’s website makes it clear it’s still possible testing and maintenance of the line may not be completed before winter — meaning service on the line wouldn’t be restored until the spring.

That would be another blow to people living in Churchill who’ve had to cope with higher prices for food and other goods that have had to be flown into the community since the winter melt last year washed out the rail line. A mini food bank for people struggling to make ends meet is still open in de Meulles’ store.

« It’s been very very hard. It’s been hard on trying to bring freight in. It’s been hard on your mind. It’s been hard on our body. You wake up in the morning, you don’t know what’s going to happen today. You don’t know if you’re going to get good news or bad news, » she said.

Even if the rail line isn’t up and running until next spring, de Meulles and Stover agreed knowing there’s a plan to have it functional in the new year is better than what they were facing a year ago.

Joe Stover, a longtime Churchill resident, said it’s a significant milestone for the community. (Submitted by Joe Stover)

« I feel a lot better going into this winter than I did last winter. Last winter there was no certainty, everything was up in the air and it was definitely a lot more negative feelings going into last winter, » Stover said.

With files from Tessa Vanderhart

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