How do you go to the toilet in space?
There are three ways:
(1) For urinating, astronauts use a long tube ending with a funnel or cuff. A vacuum system sucks the waste away. Some systems vent the urine into space (there was an example of this in the movie Apollo 13) but modern space toilets are designed to recycle urine into drinking water.
(2) For solid waste, astronauts use a special toilet with a seat belt and straps to hold them in place. The seat is contoured to form a complete seal. A suction system removes waste. The waste is exposed to vacuum to kill bacteria and remove odour, then stored in containers. Sometimes this waste is brought back to earth, sometimes it is ejected towards Earth with other rubbish to burn up in the atmosphere.
(3) Sometimes astronauts can't get to a toilet; for example, during takeoff, landing and EVAs (spacewalks). In these cases they wear adult nappies (diapers).
Doing “number 2” in space requires some precision. Astronaut Mike Mullane describes the training for this delicate task:
"NASA installed a camera at the bottom of the toilet simulator transport tube. A light inside the trainer provided illumination to a part of the body that normally didn't get a lot of sunshine. A monitor was placed directly in front of the trainer with a helpful crosshair marker to designate the exact center of the transport tube. In our training we would clamp ourselves to this toilet and wiggle around until we were looking at a perfect bull's-eye. When that was achieved, we would memorize the position of our thighs and buttocks in relation to the clamps and other seat landmarks"
- To help reduce the need to defecate in space, astronauts clean their bowels out before launch and eat a low-residue diet.
- There are reports of unfortunate "accidents" in space missions, especially the early pioneer missions.
- The International Space Station toilet has been plagued by problems, requiring numerous repairs and being regularly mocked in the news. The toilet is arguably the most famous part of the whole space station.