How Do Toilets Work in Space?
By: Will Naylor
Whether you’re in your living room or orbiting thousands of miles above Earth, when you gotta go you gotta go! But when you’re in the middle of space, something simple like going to the bathroom can turn into a major challenge. It’s kinda gross to think about what might happen if an astronaut tried to flush a regular toilet. So how do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?
Each spaceship is equipped with a unisex toilet. The toilet itself looks like a fancier version of a normal toilet, but it’s tweaked ever so slightly. The toilet can be compared to a commode that holds solid wastes and a urinal for liquid wastes. A funnel goes over the genital area allowing both men and women to urinate standing up, although they also have the option of sitting down.
To prevent the astronauts from floating away in zero gravity, the toilet comes equipped with foot restraints and a toe bar to slip your feet under. The toilet also has a thigh bar that pulls down over your lap like a roller coaster seat. The astronauts fasten themselves to the toilet, then a device similar to a vacuum cleaner sucks any wastes away.
To make sure the waste doesn’t float around the ship, the toilet uses flowing air instead of water to flush the toilet. The air pulls the waste away from the astronaut’s body and flushes it. After the air is filtered, removing bacteria and odors, it’s returned to the living cabin.
The toilet, although isn’t exactly first class, is still not quite as bad as the Maximum Absorbency Garment diapers that astronauts sometimes had to use on missions like the Apollo moon trips.
But where does all the waste go?
It’s not going to come barreling into the atmosphere and into your living room. Solid wastes are dehydrated, compressed and kept on-board in a storage container. They’re disposed of once the ship has landed. The liquid waste is released and stays in space.
On the International Space Station, liquid waste is recycled in a special water treatment plant and is turned back into drinking water. Solid waste goes into a plastic bag. Each time someone goes to the bathroom, the bag clamps down and seals. The bags are collected and placed into a special craft that is launched into space.