How the Russians pee in space

I don't know if I can fully define human nature, but I'm pretty sure it includes a prurient and/or practical interest in how one uses the bathroom under strange circumstances. Thus, the various videos you've seen over the years explaining how astronauts use the toilet on board the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station. Until a recent visit to Seattle's Museum of Flight, however, I'd never seen how cosmonauts do their business — an issue with increasingly broad reach, now that Americans and other international space voyagers are being ferried into the heavens aboard Soyuz.

The Soyuz toilet does not look much like the ones on board the Shuttle or the ISS. Those are recognizably toilets, for one thing. The Soyuz sanitary unit is more akin to peeing into a soda bottle in the back seat of the family station wagon — if that soda bottle were hooked up to a vacuum cleaner.

This video — kindly shared with us by The Museum of Flight — was filmed in 2009 by NASA astronaut Michael Barratt. It features the urination demonstration talents of spaceflight adventurer Charles Simonyi and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. Please note that this video only demonstrates how the "part Number 1" works — and even that really only seems to apply to gentlemen cosmonauts. As best I can tell, women apparently just pee into something akin to a compact diaper or sanitary pad. (Fun!) As for "part Number 2", here is how it was described in a 2007 NASA publication written by James Lee Broyan, Jr.:

For fecal collection, a porous bag is placed in the receptacle. Once defecation is complete, the bag is removed, placed sequentially in three bags, and then placed in a wet trash compartment. Based on personal conversations with АСУ trainers, urine collection is acceptable but fecal use is avoided if at all possible with the crew using diet restrictions and preventive measures prior to flight.

• Read the 2007 NASA publication comparing different space toilet systems. Apparently, part Number 2 has also been used by female cosmonauts to dispose of menstrual waste.
• Read a description on the RuSpace site, which gives a little more detail on part Number 2.
• Watch the video at YouTube

Thanks to Ted Huetter at The Museum of Flight!


  1. Why do astronauts seem to have every napkin, tissue, TP, and towel wrapped in plastic bags?  Does a tissue box dispenser not work in zero G’s?

    And doesn’t it lead to the space ship looking like someone just ate a whole pack of Kraft singles all the time?   Or do they have a hose that sucks all the plastic wrap into space?

    1. In microgravity things which sit tight on Earth, keep coming loose. Part of the reason is the constant movement in six directions. Its like holding the tissue box up and shaking it around.

  2. “…avoided if at all possible …” Sounds healthy! I wonder what the rate of colon cancer is among cosmonauts.

      1. So this is the real reason behind the new short transfer flights that Soyuz is making! (only about four hours from launch to docking irrc).

    1. That’s only during transfer to the space station. For many people not being able to defecate during a trip is a normal occurrence anyway and it can easily be achieved with the right diet. 

    1. can’t be. A fart is kind of a scream and you know what they say about screams in space.

  3. Would be good to have on road trips – peeing into a bottle while you’re in the back seat is problematic enough, but it’s impossible in the driver’s seat (I’ve tried, and don’t worry, I know it was idiotic). Actually, I bet truckers probably already have a similar system available – some of the stuff you find in middle-state truck stops is absurd.

    1. Would be good to have on road trips

      Also in San Francisco, where you have five roommates and one bathroom.

  4. One thing I’ve always wondered is what microgravity does to alimentary/urinary flora. I mean, I assume a downward  pull plays some small role in keeping certain bacteria in their respective tracts, so do some use the opportunity to spread upwards?

  5. Our work once had a former astronaut (Mike Mullane) come in to do a motivational speech.  The guy was great, and just a down to earth guy, but for some reason he was really really driven to tell us how he used the toilet in space.  It must be a popular question. 

    1. It must be like astronomy teachers trying to get all the Uranus jokes out of the way in the first class session.

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