Going to the Bathroom in Space
by Lori Keith
May 25, l998
Like the rest of you, I am very curious as to how
the astronauts go to the bathroom in space. Since going to the bathroom
is a bodily function we all must do, I wanted to know how it was performed
in zero gravity -- where everything floats. Like everything else that
goes up into space, a special toilet had to be designed for space use.
I was able to talk to several people about this special toilet, called
a Waste Collection System (WCS), and I was able to get a few pictures
of it too.
At NASA, practicing for the real thing is very important
and a lot of time is spent doing many different simulations. Like almost
everything else the astronauts use in orbit, they also have a WCS simulator.
This simulator is necessary so the astronauts can become familiar with
this hardware prior to going into space. There are two WCS simulators
for astronauts to use. One has a closed circuit camera so the person training
can check their body position while on the WCS. The other is a working
simulator which allows astronauts the opportunity to use the WCS prior
to going into space.
In an interview with Charlie Spencer, he explained
that the astronauts have to become used to what it feels like to sit on
the WCS. In zero gravity, the astronauts need to be restrained on the
WCS, so there are bars like those used to hold you in a roller coaster
that pull down across the hips. There are Velcro® straps to help
hold their feet in place.
Plastic urinal devices (called urinal funnels) are
attached to a tube (called a urinal hose), which is hooked up to catch
the urine as it comes out. There are different types of attachments, or
urinal funnels, for girls and guys. The two different types of bodily
wastes are kept separate. Toilet tissue goes into a separate container
which is bagged and stored in the wet trash compartment for later disposal.
Solid wastes are always brought back. After the shuttle lands, the WCS
is removed and brought back to Houston, where it is sent to a local company
to be emptied, cleaned, and reprocessed for the next flight.
Since there isn't much space in the mid-deck, a curtain
is used to keep the WCS closed off, but there isn't a whole lot of privacy.
The astronauts don't mind losing a little privacy though for the opportunity
to fly in space.
Photos: click on thumbnail to see enlarged