A cargo ship filled with waste was maneuvered to give ISS astronauts a good view as it re-entered the atmosphere and burned up.
So here’s a question: What do astronauts on the International Space Station do with all their poop after it goes into the space toilet? Well, it and any other waste they might have, goes into an empty cargo ship and then they launch it back towards earth where it will burn up in the atmosphere during re-entry. This time around, an astronaut has managed to capture some dazzling photos of the ensuing fireball.
The cargo ship, a European Space Agency ATV-4 named Albert Einstein, was launched in June of this year atop an Ariane 5 rocket and carried roughly 7 tons of supplies to the ISS, including a 3D-printed toolbox and food requested by Italian crew member Luca Parmitano. Parmitano oversaw the unloading of the cargo ship during its five month stay on the ISS.
Once unloaded, the cargo ship was filled with 1.6 tons of waste, and was then undocked from the space station. After that, it was sent back into the atmosphere where it burned up, making for a convenient waste-disposal system. “Each ATV mission ends with the spacecraft burning up harmlessly in the atmosphere,” said officials in a statement.
The Albert Einstein is the fourth of five planned ATV vehicles meant to supply the ISS, with the final one launching next year. Apart from the very first ATV, this is also the only one which has been observed during re-entry. “This time, [...] the ATV team organized a special departure to gain valuable data on re-entries.” continued the statement.
Here’s what the ATV-4 used to look like
The ship spent five days performing orbital maneuvers, which placed it directly below the ISS, some 100 km closer to Earth. After that, it began re-entry and gave the astronauts onboard quite a display.