THOMAS Crapper, the inventor of the commode, had never anticipated the headache involved in the act of hitting the pot in space. There has been a steady and gainless drain of US $3 million on R&D on the no-gravity commode before every blastoff. The Russians, with more on their minds than the fate of the floating bottom, simplified the issue by slinging the gunk out into a descent orbit, hoping for re-entry burnout.

The Americans have tried everything:

• Holding back, teeth clenched

• Plastic bum bags with space for 50 "events", with a string-knotted bag at hand for square pieces of tissue

• A piston compacter with a squeegee lining to wipe clean the walls of the commode

• A mild artificial breeze in the commode to restrain the stuff from drying, disintegrating into almost invisible grit and threatening crew and instrumentation None of which has worked well. NASA still forks out US $ 50,000 to a company to clean up after every shuttle trip.