MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?

Area: Astronomy
Posted By: John Haberman, Space Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt MD
Date: Fri Mar 7 12:27:41 1997

The information below is part of a more complete answer that can be found at the WWW site at Johnson Space Center - Personal Hygiene

The bathroom has a toilet, a light for reading, and even a window to look down at Earth. Weightlessness affects the use of the toilet. Crew members must use foot restraints, a seat belt, and handholds to remain seated. The toilet uses a fan to draw solid wastes to a compartment where they are dried and disinfected. This toilet can be used up to four times in an hour.

The Shuttle toilet is a result of many years of investigation, experimentation, and refinement. Early spacecraft (Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo) used diapers and disposable bags for astronaut elimination. Astronauts in space suits use diapers, even today.

You can learn much more about humans in space at Humans in Space and Frequently Asked Questions about Astronauts

The information below comes from the WWW site at Marshall Space Flight Center Astronauts


Each Space Shuttle has a toilet that can be used by both men and women. Designed to be as much as possible like those on Earth, the units use flowing air instead of water to move waste through the system.

Solid wastes are compressed and stored on-board, and then removed after landing. Waste water is vented to space, although future systems may recycle it. The air is filtered to remove odor and bacteria and then returned to the cabin.

Astronauts brush their teeth just like they do on Earth. There is no shower on the Shuttle, so astronauts must make do with sponge baths until they return home.

The toilet that was first flown aboard STS-54 is completely new in design and offers new and improved features:

The new toilet features better hygiene, larger storage capacity, greater dependability, and an overall cost savings in maintenance.

-The previous model had a 14-day capacity for storage of waste material. The new model has an unlimited storage capacity.

-The new model features a cylinder system where a plastic bag is placed in the toilet before use. The bag is then sealed and is forced to the bottom of the cylinder after each use by a plunger attached to a lever. A new bag is then placed in the toilet for the next astronaut. When the cylinder is filled, it is replaced by a new cylinder.

-The previous model relied on air flow to pull the waste to a holding tank. None of the waste was separated as it is now. The new system provides better hygiene conditions. There was no way to empty the old system. When it was full, it simply could hold no more waste materials. It had a 14 day capacity.

-The new toilet also provides an odor-free environment. The old model did not.

-The opening in the lid of the toilet was increased from 4" to 8", allowing for easier handling of the plastic storage bags.

-The urine collection system was also improved. A newer type of fan system is being used to force the urine to a holding tank where it is periodically ejected into space, where it vaporizes.

-The previous system had trouble with corrosion in the fan system.

-The new toilet can be cleaned without removal from the orbiter at the completion of the mission, reducing the cost of servicing.

-The previous system must be removed and sent to a company in Houston, Texas for servicing.

Current Queue | Current Queue for Astronomy | Astronomy archives

Try the links in the MadSci Library for more information on Astronomy.

MadSci Home | Information | Search | Random Knowledge Generator | MadSci Archives | Mad Library | MAD Labs | MAD FAQs | Ask a ? | Join Us! | Help Support MadSci

MadSci Network
© 1997, Washington University Medical School