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July 19, 2019 1:14 PM   Subscribe

"Let's talk about peeing in space." Lots of fun facts in this Twitter thread by writer Mary Robinette Kowal, debunking the idea — put forth by some readers in response to her essay in the NYT on women astronauts — "that women couldn't go into space because we lacked the technology for them to pee in space" and explaining in detail how "we didn't have the technology for men to pee in space when they started either." (Also: extra fun facts on pooping, and farting, and belching, and periods in space.)
posted by bitteschoen (27 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Didn't modern disposable diapers get invented for the space program? Pretty sure diapers work equally poorly for everyone. [also this thread is gross]

also:

When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity.

What is it with people? Didn't people think that when trains were invented that going too fast would suck the air out of passengers' lungs? You can pee standing on your head (i mean, if that's your thing) against gravity and you can pee in a pool (but don't) against positive pressure, I have no idea why peeing in space would be a problem.

WE CAN PUT A MAN ON THE MOON BUT PEOPLE STILL GOTTA BE WEIRD ABOUT PEE
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I loved this thread and am not entirely believing the pee condom size name change.

She mentions Sally Ride and the period comment. In Sally's recent biography, it mentions that her body weight was low enough that she didn't even have periods most of the time.

Growing up, I had a well-loved copy of her To Space And Back book, which included a picture of the space shuttle's toilet!
posted by jillithd at 1:30 PM on July 19 [4 favorites]


There's conversation on the Apollo 10 tapes about a floating turd.

Robert Cripped, pilot on the first Shuttle mission, gave these instructions for using the toilet in space: "First remove all clothes".

The early spacecraft landed in the ocean and were secured by Navy frogman. Evidently the smell coming from the craft after the door was opened was intense at times.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:31 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


"When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity. "

Astronauts, having been test pilots and experienced weightlessness, just laughed and rolled their eyes at this shit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:32 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


And some days, the best solution is still a diaper or a bag taped to the ass

Or, as Stanley Kubrick called it, a “plastic dalkron eliminator”.
posted by acb at 1:36 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Astronauts, having been test pilots and experienced weightlessness, just laughed and rolled their eyes at this shit.

they laughed, rolled their eyes, their mouths went slack, their heads drooped, all the blood pooled in their legs, they let up off the stick and then regained consciousness
posted by GuyZero at 1:38 PM on July 19 [36 favorites]


Steak and eggs was the traditional breakfast before launch because it was "low residue".

FUN fact: The Apollo 10 Lunar module is the only one that still in space, on some unknown orbit around the sun. But before the crew jettisoned it, they put all their trash in it, including bags of poop.

So, there's was spacecraft filled with all the ingredients of life, floating around in the radiation of space. WHEN WILL IT RETURN AND WHAT WILL IT BE?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:40 PM on July 19 [30 favorites]


Griffin McElroy had a related proposition, but I suspect it is not the case.

I have really enjoyed the Lady Astronaut books; they have had some issues, I thought, but not for lack of good research and strong historical imagination.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:44 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


So, there's was spacecraft filled with all the ingredients of life, floating around in the radiation of space. WHEN WILL IT RETURN AND WHAT WILL IT BE?!

The POTUS45 and Brexit threads are over there.
posted by acb at 1:51 PM on July 19 [12 favorites]


Really enjoyed the thread and the idea of all the discussions within NASA that led to these decisions.

I'd also highly recommend Mary Roach's Packing For Mars for more on the subject.
posted by Twicketface at 2:00 PM on July 19 [10 favorites]


I just learned in Digital Apollo by David Mindell (very interesting read by the way) that one of the big reasons that the Apollo Guidance Computers were ultimately sealed up, instead of astronaut-serviceable with replaceable modules, was that during Gemini a computer shorted out because a floating pee drop drifted in and fried it. They landed safely but it was soon after decided that the computers should be sealed shut.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:28 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


"When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity. "

Presumably (hopefully) the worry wasn't "people could not pee or swallow" (because, as noted, you can do those while upside down or floating in the air in as close to zero-g as we can get), but "some essential part of either process requires gravity, and a few hours/few days without it will result in liquid not getting where it needs to."

Obviously you can swallow without needing gravity; there's a lot of muscles involved. How many are involved in getting what you've eaten from the esophagus into the stomach? How much of that is supposed to be done by gravity? I'd expect the worry not to be, "will they be able to swallow at all," but, "will the esophagus slowly fill with content that has to be pushed down other content by the force of the next swallow, making eating and drinking very difficult?"

I imagine there were similar questions about the connection of the bladder to the urethra: if nothing is pushing the pee down, how much does it need to build up in order to go? And the thread mentions, gravity is what tells you that you need to go, and astronauts pee on a schedule because they can't otherwise tell. But apparently, other than that, the apparatus work fine without gravity.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:51 PM on July 19 [6 favorites]


I second the motion for the Lady Astronaut series. Fine stuff.
posted by doctornemo at 3:43 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I went to a talk by an astronaut/space person as a child, and he said that the thing everyone asked him was how people go to the bathroom in space. Sometimes he asked the audiences to try and design a functional space toilet, and someone once suggested gluing the astronauts to the toilet seat.
posted by Query at 3:45 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I once saw James Doohan (aka Star Trek's Scotty) speak at an NYC comics convention. Someone from the floor pointed out that the Enterprise blueprints then on sale showed no lavatories on board, so how did the crew pee?

"We set our phasers on 'disintegrate'," Doohan replied, "and aim very, very carefully."
posted by Paul Slade at 3:51 PM on July 19 [16 favorites]


Obviously in Star Trek they beam the poop and pee directly out of your body.

It tingles.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:03 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


"We set our phasers on 'disintegrate'," Doohan replied, "and aim very, very carefully."

This is a bald-faced lie. The true protocol is to simply beam it overboard. Except Scotty usually teleports it directly into Kirk's bed. Nearly half the crew of the Enterprise D did this to Wesley during the Sweater Years.
posted by loquacious at 4:06 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


It tingles.

Especially when O'Brian fucks up again and you end up with a tribble somewhere medically improbable.
posted by loquacious at 4:09 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Twicketface: I'd also highly recommend Mary Roach's Packing For Mars for more on the subject

Fantastic book. I met her at a book signing and thanked her for turning me on to Col. Mullane’s book Riding Rockets having cited it in Packing For Mars. She said she was glad that she could give his book a boost after Mullane was effectively railroaded out of NASA for not towing the company line on the Challenger investigation.
posted by dr_dank at 4:09 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


It's lonely as hell out there...I peed in my pants."

-Buzz Aldrin.
posted by clavdivs at 5:11 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I watched the recent PBS series "Chasing the Moon" (American Experience S31 E3, E4, E5) and at one point an Apollo 8 astronaut, I think, proudly proclaimed that he held the record for the longest voyage without taking a crap, a quarter million miles to the Moon and back.
posted by XMLicious at 5:34 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I don't know why specifically, but something about the phrase "tape a bag to their ass" has me rolling with laughter.
posted by aloiv2 at 6:25 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


during Gemini a computer shorted out because a floating pee drop drifted in and fried it.

I had never heard this before, but I have hunch it was Slayton. Was it Slayton?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:11 PM on July 19


Slayton didn’t fly during Gemini.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:43 PM on July 19


I imagine catherers and colostomy bags might be a solution.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:42 AM on July 20


Reading this recent Metafilter thread, I was struck by the unconscious bias in the term "manned mission" versus "crewed mission" when we talk about spaceflight (thank you mark k). This led me to some reading: Unmanning Space Language:

"When journalists write about a spacecraft, they often use the words manned and unmanned to describe whether there are humans on board. This use reflects the archaic practice of referring to humans as mankind, but does it reflect the reality of humankind and our engagements with outer space?

Dr. Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist based at Flinders University in Australia, has written about avoiding sexist or “gender exclusive” language when talking about space. She argues that the use of words like mankind and manned reinforces the idea that space is for men and not for women. Here’s how Gorman explains, on her blog, why this matters:
When you’re a bloke, terms such as “mankind” automatically include you. You don’t have to think about it at all; you’re already in there. Now we all know that these terms are supposed to also include women; but the reality is a bit different. Firstly, women have to “think themselves into” such expressions, even if it happens at a subconscious level. Secondly, there have been studies which show that men tend to assume such expressions to refer to them alone and do not automatically include women unless stated, again often at a subconscious level. And finally, there are plenty of examples of women attempting to exercise a right of “man,” only to be told it does not apply to them.
Gendered language matters because it often reinforces both sexism and the idea of a fixed gender binary (woman/man, female/male). This impacts both how we think about who goes into space and those doing scientific research on space."

Gorman's blogpost also includes the last 2 panels of a children's comic that hit me right in the gut (the image can be enlarged for easier reading by clicking on it).
posted by cynical pinnacle at 12:51 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


Scene: NASA 1972, men in white button down shirts and black ties smoking around a conference table.

Flight Commander: Men for years we tried to discover the exact way women urinate and how. What I'm about to tell use is highly classified. In 1947 we initiated a program in Germany to capture top female urination experts, titled Operation PeepeeClip. This is when we made the shocking discovery that they don't just pee standing up and have been hiding it from us all these years. You see, we first initiated this when we captured infamous founder of the female anatomy Wolfgang T Clitoris. During the 1920s he and a small contingent of set out to the African desert to find, and found, this almost legendary depiction hieroglyph from of a woman first urinating on the seat, then what was later deciphered as to wiping from back to forward. There's no "jiggle and shake" that we long believed there to be...

(Room gasps)

Wolfgang T Clitoris: I vill take it from here. Yes after mien invention of ze eponymous "clitoris" I was given unlimited resources by the Third Reich. But it was not until ve captured a woman next to a crashed car in the Nevada desert on film RELIEVING HERSELF on the side of a road. It is grainy but you can clearly see mien frau is indeed ... not standing. After intensive dissection and subsequent cover up we believe we have the ability to create a suit to withstand de pressure of such a stream by 1995!
posted by geoff. at 6:47 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]


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