How Astronauts Go to the Bathroom in Outer Space

S119-E-008577 (25 March 2009) --- Backdropped by a blue and white Earth, the International Space Station is seen from Space Shuttle Discovery as the two spacecraft begin their relative separation. Earlier the STS-119 and Expedition 18 crews concluded 9 days, 20 hours and 10 minutes of cooperative work onboard the shuttle and station. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 2:53 p.m. (CDT) on March 25, 2009.

There are lots of challenges concerned in placing people in space. Not the least of which is determining how they are going to go to the lavatory. NASA has been coping with this, with roughly success, ever for the reason that first space missions. Even earlier than the space age, the navy’s U-2 program faced this challenge. These long-distance reconnaissance planes fly at 70,000 toes (21,336 meters). This means the pilots should put on partially pressurized fits. In-flight peeing was, within the early days, managed by an in-suit catheter, inserted into the then-exclusively-male pilots’ penises and threaded into their bladders. The urine was siphoned out of the bladder and right into a bag. It labored. But, as you possibly can think about, the pilots didn’t assume it was the best resolution. NASA got here up with a greater resolution for space flights, but it surely took them some time to get this proper.

Man, I gotta pee

For the primary American flight into space, in 1961, NASA didn’t have a plan for peeing. They didn’t assume they’d want one for the fifteen-minute flight. Thanks to a sequence of small issues, nonetheless, the launch was delayed. After three hours suited up and on his again within the Freedom 7 rocket, solo crew member Alan Shepard radioed command with a really down-to-Earth message: “Man, I gotta pee.” Shepard requested if he might quickly get out of his go well with to alleviate himself of the espresso and OJ he’d had for breakfast. Command responded with a decisive “No.” But they did quickly flip off {the electrical} components of his go well with in order that he might simply pee proper in his pants with out the chance of frying himself. So yeah, the primary human in space went there with moist britches. One small oversight for NASA, one nice pee for Alan Shepard.

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On later and longer spaceflights, NASA got here up with a plan. Astronauts urinated through an advanced association involving what NASA describes as “a rubber cuff connected to a flexible collection bag.” Defecation was a bit extra difficult. Here’s NASA’s description of the Apollo mission’s pooping procedure:

The system used was a plastic bag which was taped to the buttocks to seize feces. After defecation, the crewmember was required to seal the bag and knead it to be able to combine a liquid bactericide with the contents to offer the specified diploma of feces stabilization. Because this activity was distasteful and required an inordinate period of time, low residue meals and laxatives had been usually used previous to launch. During flight, along with low residue meals, some use was additionally made of medication to scale back intestinal motility.

Little baggage of poop

These days, for space walks astronauts put on what is actually a high-tech diaper known as a most absorbency garment. It’s rather more easy and doesn’t contain kneading feces or taking medication.

But space shuttles and the International Space Station have room — a tiny little bit of room — for one thing like a traditional bathroom. The routine is one thing like this: Crew members pee into what is actually a vacuum tube that sucks all of the urine in in order that it doesn’t go floating throughout the space station. The urine is collected, processed, and recycled, or as astronaut Jessica Meir put it in an article on NASA’s web site, “When it comes to our urine on [the International Space Station], today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!”

To defecate, they line a bit canister with a plastic bag, sit on high of the canister, and drop the deposit into the bag. This system, too, has a vacuum that ensures the deposit goes the place it ought to, as a result of if there’s something worse than drops of urine floating across the space station, it’s floating turds. The little baggage of poop are then loaded onto a particular cargo ship that burns up when it reenters Earth’s ambiance. (A couple of canisters are stored and despatched again to Earth for research).

Diversity in bathroom design

This system works nicely sufficient for male crew members, however shouldn’t be ideally suited for females, who can’t so simply separate the method of peeing from the method of pooping. Again, it took some time, however NASA has lastly addressed that downside, too. Last September, NASA introduced that it was putting in a brand new toilet on the space station, or because it’s formally known as, a Universal Waste Management System.

The bathroom a part of the UWMS has been redesigned to have in mind feminine anatomy. The urine funnel and the seat can be utilized on the identical time. Of course, the output shouldn’t be the one factor that may float away in a zero-gravity surroundings. Astronauts can, too. So the brand new bogs have foot restraints and hand-holds, so the astronauts can keep up to the mark. It’s not simple to do your online business in space, but it surely’s loads simpler than it was.

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