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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
NASA photo of WCS photo of urinal funnel exterior picture of WCS training area photo of flushing mechanism & on/off switch
Close up photo of WCS trainer photo of WCS trainer showing foot & body restraints photo of WCS trainer with closed circuit camera photo of WCS, or space potty
photo of WCS control panel Photo of another WCS  control panel photo of WCS trainer

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