Space toilets

The only toilet on the International Space Station was having problems for a week, but fortunately it's working once again. To celebrate, Scientific American's JR Minkel takes a look back at NASA's space toilets. From Scientific American:
 Media Inline 3B9E9B0A-F646-2Afd-B8110B627A32A465 1 In an interview published in 1977 Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart called the dump of waste liquid at sunset "one of the most beautiful sights" in orbit. "As the stuff comes out, and as it hits the exit nozzle, it instantly flashes into 10 million little ice crystals which go out almost in a hemisphere … a spray of sparklers, almost," he said. "It's really a spectacular sight."

Defecating, however, is apparently a bit less majestic. The Apollo module had no privacy, let alone a bathroom. When Schweickart or one his fellow highly trained colleagues felt nature's call, they taped a plastic bag to their backsides.

"You just float around for awhile doing things with a bag on your butt," Schweickart tells Then came the task of dislodging the excrement (no gravity, remember?) without spreading it everywhere. All told, Schweickart said, the process took about an hour.


  1. It amuses me that Disney got NASA to take a Buzz Lightyear doll into space for some toy experiment something or other, which would have been a focus for the news, except for that pesky toilet breaking that steals all the attention.

    It’s an interesting public-relations-gone-wrong kind of story.

  2. Check out the yellow cone at the left side of the photograph. I believe that’s the urine collection device. Above it, also yellow, is the cap for the device. It is not, of course, on the device, because, even in space, guys leave the seat up.

  3. I am still amazed as to how people still get excited on space toilets. Also, one of the best questions of all time arrive from here: “How do we go to the bathroom in space?”

    NASA, or the Russian SA, or ESA, or all of the SAs there should really put out a few public free-to-use space toilets so that people can know what it feels like to put your, well, wongle in a tube of some sort and urinate, or put a “suction” thing over her’s peeing gadget and see how it feels. :) And for the love of god, to feel how your buttocks are being slightly pulled downward from constant vacuum when doing the II.

    — Yeah, it would be nice for an experience.

  4. Before I started college, I was an intern at Rockwell International in Downey, CA–where they made the crew compartment for space shuttle. This was in ’82, in the early days of the program. I worked in the defect reporting department, essentially acting as a cog in the human implementation of bugzilla. We would process all the failure reports coming off of shuttle trials and later missions. Guess which component accounted for most of the defects? The crapper.

  5. I remember reading an interview with Schweikart in CoEvolution Quarterly in which he talked a lot about being an astronaut, including a bit on going to the loo in space. Of course, for the title of the interview they quoted Schwiekart on space-toilets, There Ain’t No Graceful Way. I recall that they had an illustration of the plastic bag for solid waste collection, with an extension for sticking a finger in to help with the collection.

    Ew. Time to think of something more pleasant, like the joke zero-gravity toilet instructions Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke put into 2001: A Space Odyssey.

  6. Oops. Schweickart’s interview is referenced in the article linked above, if I had looked a little more carefully. I think I might take an early night.

  7. Do you think all of the “Space Hotel” proponents conveniently forget to tell the general public about stuff like this?

  8. …And, of course, where the FCD is concerned – Fecal Collection Device – there’s the part that every Astronaut hated more than having to actually take the dump using one: before sealing it up, you had to toss in a capsule of antiseptic, break it up and knead it into the poop until it was well-mixed – a 10 minute process unto itself. Then they had to label the bag with the date and time so that it could be properly analyzed back on the ground to determine if the composition had been altered by space travel.

    …Of course, the UCD assembly for the ISS toilet is a lot better than the one used during Apollo. It was quite probable that when opening the intake one would catch the tip of his pecker and wind up leaving a little behind when it closed up. Then again, that was even far better than the method used for Gemini and Mercury flights after Liberty Bell 7 – an extra-length condom attached to a modified woman’s underpants!

  9. I’m a space…toilet. Bet you weren’t ready for that. I’m a space…toilet. I’m sure you know where it’s at. yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

  10. I thought that there were two toilets up there, a Russian one and an American one, which just went up recently?

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