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How do astronauts go to the lavatory in house? – Henry D., age 7, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Whether or not you utilize a gap within the floor or a flowery gold-plated rest room, on Earth, gravity pulls your waste down and away from you. For astronauts, “doing their obligation” is a little more difficult. With out gravity, any free drops or dribbles may float out of the bathroom. That’s not good for astronauts’ well being, nor for the delicate gear contained in the house station.

I research volcanoes on different planets, and I’m thinking about how folks can work in excessive environments like house.

So how do you go to the lavatory in house or on the Worldwide House Station? Rigorously – and with suction.

The new NASA Universal Waste Management System has a steel lid, controls and many tubes surrounding the toilet bowl.
The brand new rest room is extra snug, simpler to make use of for each women and men, and lighter.
NASA/James Blair through Wikimedia Commons

A rest room vacuum

In 1961, Alan Shepard turned the primary American in house. His journey was imagined to be quick, so there was no plan for pee. However the launch was delayed for over three hours after Shepard climbed into the rocket. Finally, he requested if he may exit the rocket to pee. As a substitute of losing extra time, mission management concluded that Shepard may safely pee inside his spacesuit. The primary American in house went up in damp underwear.

Thankfully, there’s a rest room on the house station nowadays. The unique rest room was designed in 2000 for males and was tough for girls to make use of: You needed to pee whereas standing up. To poop, astronauts used thigh straps to take a seat on the small rest room and to maintain a decent seal between their bottoms and the bathroom seat. It didn’t work very nicely and was laborious to maintain clear.

So in 2018, NASA spent US$23 million on a new and improved rest room for astronauts on the Worldwide House Station. To get across the issues of zero-gravity lavatory breaks, the new rest room is a specifically designed vacuum rest room. There are two elements: a hose with a funnel on the finish for peeing and a small raised rest room seat for pooping.

The toilet is stuffed with handholds and footholds in order that astronauts don’t drift off in the course of their enterprise. To pee, they’ll sit or stand after which maintain the funnel and hose tightly in opposition to their pores and skin in order that nothing leaks out. To poop, astronauts raise the bathroom lid and sit on the seat – identical to right here on Earth. However this rest room begins suctioning as quickly because the lid is lifted to forestall issues from drifting away – and to regulate the stink. To ensure that there’s a tight match between the bathroom seat and the astronauts’ behinds, the bathroom seat is smaller than the one in your home.

The Russian Progress spacecraft floating above Earth. It is cylindrical with two solar panels sticking out to the sides.
Russian Progress spacecrafts deliver provides to the ISS and tackle trash and waste, which is then burned up within the environment with the spacecraft.
NASA/Wikimedia Commons

After the deed is completed

Pee is greater than 90% water. Since water is heavy and takes up numerous house, it’s higher to recycle pee somewhat than deliver up clear water from Earth. All astronaut pee is collected and turned again into clear, drinkable water. Astronauts say that “As we speak’s espresso is tomorrow’s espresso!

Generally, astronaut poop is introduced again to Earth for scientists to check, however more often than not, lavatory waste – together with poop – is burned. Poop is vacuumed into rubbish baggage that are put into hermetic containers. Astronauts additionally put rest room paper, wipes and gloves – gloves assist preserve every little thing clear – within the containers too. The containers are then loaded right into a cargo ship that introduced provides to the house station, and this ship is launched at Earth and burns up in Earth’s higher environment.

In case you’ve ever seen a capturing star, it might need been a meteorite burning up in Earth’s environment – or it might need been flaming astronaut poo. And the subsequent time you must pee or poop, be grateful that you just’re doing it with gravity’s assist.

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