A Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS) and among the 3,629 kg of cargo the craft is bringing to the station is a very exciting bit of new space-equipment: an all-new space-shitter. Yes, there’s a new toilet, officially called the Universal Waste Management System and I couldn’t be more excited to think about astronauts relieving themselves.
Using the bathroom in space has long been a subject of intense curiosity for everyone Earthbound, and solutions in the past have often been less than elegant; remember, the astronauts who first went to the moon were shitting in plastic bags.
This new toilet is called a Universal Waste Management System because it’s designed to be used across different spacecraft platforms. It’ll be going into the ISS first, but it’s also designed to be the on-board toilet for the upcoming Orion capsule that will eventually take astronauts to orbit, the Moon and, hopefully, Mars and beyond.
As a result, the toilet is about 65 per cent smaller and 40 per cent lighter than the toilet currently in use on the space station, which is good since the Orion isn’t exactly super-roomy.
Onboard the ISS, the toilet will be installed in a porta-potty-like enclosure which has two compartments, one of which has the current toilet setup and the other will house the new one, possibly making for literal side-by-side comparison tests.
The new toilet is designed to be more comfortable and, significantly, should prove to be easier for women astronauts to use as well, something that had been an issue for previous designs.
The new toilet should integrate better with the ISS’ water system for improved water reclamation from urine. Currently, about 90 per cent of all water-based liquids on the station are recycled, and NASA wants to get that up to 98 per cent.
NASA is, of course, very interested in water recycling and even made a little video about it complete with a title text font that looks like it’s from a Spencer Gifts blacklight poster:
That’s the most interesting short video I’ve seen about drinking your urine and sweat in days.
So far they’re not reclaiming the moisture from faeces, but NASA is looking into it. Someone’s probably doing a Ph.D. dissertation about that as we speak.
In the absence of gravity, the toilet uses a suction system to help pull all that filthy waste out of brave astronauts’ anuses, meatuses, and urethras. It was suction that led to the major improvements for female astronauts, with funnel designs being better suited to female anatomy than before and allowing for better simultaneous urine and faeces evacuations.
I’m excited to hear how the new crapper works once the astronauts take it for a spin! Maybe they’ll do a livestream?