How do you go to the bathroom in space?
February 14, 2005 8:10 PM   Subscribe

How do you go to the bathroom in space? One of the questions answered on NASA's Brain Bites page.
posted by achmorrison (16 comments total)
Wow. A video even.
posted by delmoi at 8:13 PM on February 14, 2005

Astronaut William Pogue wrote a book by the same name.
posted by Fat Guy at 8:19 PM on February 14, 2005

Here are the instructions for the Zero Gravity Toilet from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.(self link)
posted by Arch Stanton at 8:34 PM on February 14, 2005

Maximum Absorption Garment = a quart-capacity diaper.
posted by pracowity at 1:11 AM on February 15, 2005

I had the pleasure of seeing Alan Shepard's diapers at the London Science Museum last time I was there. The inscription was educational in such a polite, British way. ;)
posted by miss lynnster at 1:20 AM on February 15, 2005

There are many reasons why I should not and would not go to space (I get ill on carousels, for example), but this is the main reason I would not want to go, not unless there was a separate, private toilet module with a lock on the door. The Flying Excrement Containment-Evacuation Section or something. The Bog Pod.
posted by pracowity at 2:07 AM on February 15, 2005

The video is so vague that it's practically useless. The guy is so afraid he's gonna say something indelicate that he says nothing. It is still very unclear precisely how one takes a crap in space, not that I'm gonna lose too much sleep over it.
posted by wsg at 2:42 AM on February 15, 2005

This of course is the eternal air/space question, even asked to Charles Lindbergh by King George V — as referred to recently by indiebass. And summed up so sweetly by man-thing.
posted by LeLiLo at 4:37 AM on February 15, 2005

mad props to Arch Stanton for the 2001 was the first thing that came to me scoping this post ;]
posted by gren at 6:29 AM on February 15, 2005

Ben Bova, from the introduction to Spider Robinson's The Callahan Chronicles:
I remember getting a newspaper clipping from Spider which showed a NASA drawing of the design for a toilet to be used under zero gravity conditions in the Skylab satellite. (NASA has problems that thee and me can't even guess at.) The cutaway drawing of this engineering marvel showed that there was a rotating blade inside the toilet bowl, to "separate the liquids from the solid wastes," as NASA's engineers euphemistically put it.

Spider, in his scrawly handwriting, had scribbled across the top of the clipping a brief note, followed by an arrow that pointed unerringly to the bowl and the separator blade. The note said, "Ben: Near as I can figure, the shit is SUPPOSED to hit the fan!"
posted by Shane at 6:43 AM on February 15, 2005

My connection is fairly slow, so I didn't watch the video.
But my father worked for NASA for a few years on a project for the space station and water reclamation. At 8lbs per gallon, water is an expensive thing to bring up into space (since more volume means fewer other things you can take up, and more weight means increased fuel burn) - so they were very interested in reclaiming all waste water and then treating it so that it could be consumed again.

(on a side note, it was during this time that Waterworld came out and I scoffed at the start where he filters his urine and yet was surrounded by the ocean - but my dad did note that urine is far easier to clean than salt water is to make pure, in terms of energy needed)

As you can imagine, a lot of work that my father did also involved the toilet that they used on the space shuttle. The most amusing thing I can remember from his time there and various meetings/tours I got to go on when visiting him was that the toilet was designed to form to your body. This is so that it could provide the proper seal and not let waste out into the zero gravity environment (obvious).
But apparently all of the astronauts are extreme practical jokers and as a way to break some of the tension/stress that they are going through, they constantly pull trick/jokes on each other.

So during the design of the toilet, it was shown that they had to have a secure way of locking seat configurations so that people wouldn't be able to adjust it for other people. Until they did that, it was common for someone to sneak in and readjust the settings for another astronaut's toilet configuration - so it would no longer seal properly for them and also be quite uncomfortable.
So there was actually a several stage ID and password authentication system used on the toilet and at the time they were looking into what more could be done on top of that (biometric sorts of things).

To this day, when I go to the bathroom, I nearly always remember the NASA engineers telling me that story and have to smile.
posted by MrFancypants at 6:48 AM on February 15, 2005

What I want to know is how you deal with menstruation in space, given that there is no gravity assist for the flow and (as far as I understand) there is not the same muscular involvement that there is in defecating and urinating.
posted by alms at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2005

Alms, I suspect the answer at the moment has a lot to do with taking your pill and skipping the period. It's the cheap solution.
posted by wilful at 2:03 PM on February 15, 2005

wsg: The video is so vague that it's practically useless.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one thoroughly disappointed with that. I was expecting something informative, since they actually went to the trouble of videotaping it, but it was nothing more than the guy sitting there and acting like an ass. Boo.

The information in the rest of this thread, however, is much more along the lines of what I was looking for.
posted by ibidem at 4:07 PM on February 15, 2005

How? Very carefully....
posted by IndigoJones at 5:19 PM on February 15, 2005

And the difference between the manual and automatic switch? No, on second thought: don't want to know.
posted by TDavid at 5:50 PM on February 15, 2005

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