Being an astronaut sounds pretty cool. You get to ride a speeding rocket into orbit, wear and work with high-tech equipment, and spend hours floating above the Earth like a superhero. An astronaut is a job of dignity and respect. Well, until you realize how they use the bathroom.
Astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds an American record for time in space, was asked by Business Insider to describe one of the more personal undertakings of living on a space station. Rather than a hotel, Whitson compares a trip on the International Space Station (ISS) to a camping trip. Urinating in space may be a relatively easy task, just point your business towards a funnel equipped with a suction and shoot. “Number two… is more challenging because you’re trying to hit a pretty small target,” she said.
Unfortunately, things can get even more…crappy (pun intended). “After it starts getting full,” Whitson said, “you have to put a rubber glove on and pack it down.” She’s talking about poop, folks.
Just with any piece of equipment, the space toilet could malfunction. That’s when the fun begins. You could image the difficultly (and the horror!) of feces escaping in a microgravity environment. Catching floating feces is a task that teachers don’t tell you about in grad school.
The current method is much better than early astronauts who had to defecate in collection bags stuck to their bottoms with adhesive. They also had to insert a germicide into their bags of waste so the bacteria, which is gas-expelling, wouldn’t cause the sealed bag to explode.
Now, the space toilet is a little more sophisticated, but still not a walk in the park. The International Space Station’s $19,000 toilet isn’t exactly a luxurious throne. It does convert the astronaut’s urine to drinking water. Poop, on the other hand, still gets sealed in a plastic bag to be burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The astronauts version of a burning bag of poop on the porch.
All the hardship is not enough to damper Whitson’s love of space. “To be a part of exploration in that very direct way is incredibly satisfying and gratifying,” said Whitson.