Perhaps you have never stopped to think about physics involved in a “going to the bathroom”, but without some forces in the process, it would not be so simple to “get the water out of the knee”. So the question is how space toilet works when there is no gravity??
In that case, gravity is one of the most important forces to get everything going as planned. Without it, going to the bathroom would be a very labor-intensive task. After all, a bit of carelessness and the rest of the house would be invaded by nothing but unpleasant floating debris.
However, these are difficulties faced by astronauts who spend days in orbit during space missions. Obviously, NASA and other space agencies have already developed technologies to bypass the difficulties that arise in a micro-gravity environment.
Check out how astronauts do to go to the bathroom and bathe while they are in space!
It can be a little embarrassing, and even nauseating, to imagine what would happen if astronauts used a common toilet in space. By pulling the discharge, water, urine and faeces, it could float through the interior of the ship and contaminate the entire environment with bacteria. Not to mention the bad smell, which would infest the environment and could not be eliminated with a simple window open.
Another striking factor is the limitation of space and weight that bathroom construction needs to respect in order not to disrupt the performance of the space mission. Therefore, the only toilet on board is shared by both men and women. In addition, it has no door, but rather a curtain that must be closed to maintain user privacy.
Waste Collector System (WCS), also known as “bathroom” (Image Source: NASA Quest )
A curious detail is the fact that the toilet that goes into space has locks and safety belts. These accessories are used to allow the astronaut to remain in contact with the seat and not float during an inopportune moment. In the above video it is possible to see how the astronaut’s bathroom looks like.
And do not worry! As the internal environment of space shuttles and the International Space Station is often noisy, thanks to the activity of air conditioning and other systems, it is practically impossible for a co-worker to hear the noise made during the use of the bathroom.
A Different “Discharge”
As it is not possible to use water to get rid of waste, the astronaut’s toilet relies on air and vacuum to keep everything clean. When urinating, for example, the space traveler should “pee” inside a tube, which sucks the liquid out with the help of a vacuum.
Often, urine is eliminated in space. However, visitors to the International Space Station do not waste the collected material: after a special treatment, astronaut pees turn into potable water.
To make number two, the process is a bit more complicated. The waste collection system uses drafts instead of water. It is this “ventinho” that helps to remove the feces from the toilet, since gravity can not do the service.
Solid wastes are stored in special compartments after the water has drained. The air used for the bathroom passes through a filter, which eliminates bacteria and strong odor, and then returns to normal circulation in the internal environment of the bus or the space station.
According to NASA , solid waste is removed from the ship after it returns to Earth. But there are other purposes. In a lecture, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield reveals in the video above that when this compartment is too full, the manure is thrown into space, inside a capsule, which burns as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. In other words, “number 2” of astronauts is sometimes turned into a shooting star. Is not it cool?
Meanwhile, from the outside …
Astronaut holds a MAG during the lecture (Image Source: Gawain Reifsnyder )
The astronauts’ work routine is not just about fun. In addition to all the uncomfortable effects they may experience in space, such as motion sickness and muscle atrophy, these professionals also need to wear diapers.
Launching a space shuttle is a time-consuming and time-consuming process to ensure everything runs smoothly. Therefore, many astronauts spend hours inside the vehicle until the launch is finally started. During this time, it is not possible to leave the toilet seat and come back later. So travelers need to be given some means to do their needs while they wait.
The same happens during out-of-vehicle missions, the so-called spacewalks or extravagant activity (EVA). As time off from the vehicle is limited, astronauts can not afford to pause the service to “relieve themselves.” Therefore, these professionals need to use what they call Maximum Absorption Clothing (MAG), a kind of diaper capable of absorbing large amounts of feces and urine.
And bath time?
Astronaut Jack R. Lousma bathing inside Skylab station (Image source: NASA – JSC )
As you might imagine, it is difficult to use a shower in a microgravity environment. For this reason, astronauts often use special, moistened towels to “wash” themselves. Space Stations have an adapted shower with a cylindrical coating. The water and the foam that floats during the bath are aspirated by a special device.
Despite all the difficulties, the important thing is that astronauts can maintain their hygiene when they are in orbit. After all, no one would like to get sick in space, right?