Home / Science / Go boldly! NASA’s new space toilet is on its way to the Space Station – here’s how it works

Go boldly! NASA’s new space toilet is on its way to the Space Station – here’s how it works

New NASA space toilet for the ISS

NASA’s new space toilet for the International Space Station is undergoing testing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Credit: NASA

It’s the old space age question: How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space? The most basic human biological processes become difficult off-planet due in part to the lack of gravity.

UWMS universal waste management system

Credit: NASA

NASA launched a new space toilet, the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), to the International Space Station during Northrop Grumman’s 14th contract refueling mission. Another UWMS unit will be installed in Orion for the Artemis II flight test which will send astronauts on a 10-day mission beyond the Moon and back.

The “Universal” in UWMS is fundamental: the central design concept can be easily integrated into different spacecraft and life support systems. On platforms such as the space station where astronauts live and work for extended periods of time, UWMS will feed the pretreated urine into a regenerative system, which recycles the water for further use. For shorter-duration missions, such as Artemis II, UWMS also works with a system where waste is not pre-treated with chemicals and is simply stored for disposal.

The toilet was designed to respond to astronauts’ feedback on comfort and ease of use. It also features a structure that is 65% smaller and 40% lighter than the current space station toilet. Better integration with other components of the space station’s water system will help recycle more urine, which, yes, astronauts drink after it’s filtered and processed.

Nature has been recycling water on Earth for eons and NASA he’s perfecting how to do it in space right now on the International Space Station. In constant operation for several years, the water recovery system draws moisture from a variety of sources to continuously provide the astronauts with safe and clean drinking water. Follow the entire process in this video and learn how engineers are successfully transforming yesterday’s coffee into tomorrow’s for these brave explorers! Credit: NASA Johnson

“We recycle approximately 90 percent of all water-based liquids on the space station, including urine and sweat,” explains NASA astronaut Jessica Meir. “What we try to do aboard the space station is to mimic the elements of Earth’s natural water cycle to recover water from the air. And when it comes to our urine on the ISS, today’s coffee is coffee from tomorrow! “

Space station toilet stall

For privacy, the toilet is located inside a stable just like a public toilet on Earth. The double stall configuration you see here has already been installed on the space station and will house the waste hygiene compartment that is currently in use on the space station and UWMS during this technology demonstration. Credit: NASA

The regenerative life support system on the space station is critical to reducing the need to launch additional water from Earth. Initial lunar missions will have a shorter duration, so these complex systems may not be necessary. Round trip missions a Marshowever, it will take about two years and there will be no opportunities to complete the water supply. NASA’s goal is to achieve 98% recycling rates before the first human missions aboard a proposed Mars transport vehicle. The space station is currently the only test site in space to validate life support and long-term recycling systems.

How do space toilets work?

In zero gravity, space toilets use airflow to pull urine and feces away from the body and into appropriate receptacles. A new feature of the UWMS is the automatic start of airflow when the toilet lid is raised, which also helps with odor control. According to popular demand (astronaut), it also includes a more ergonomic design that requires less cleaning and maintenance time, with corrosion resistant and durable parts to reduce the likelihood of maintenance outside the set schedule. Less time spent on plumbing means more time for the crew to devote to science and other high-priority exploration-focused activities.

Space station urine tube

One team member demonstrates that he has lifted the urine tube from its cradled position as a crew member would for use. A funnel (not shown) is attached to the open end of this tube and can therefore be easily replaced or removed for disinfection. Credit: NASA

The crew uses a specially shaped funnel and tube for urine and a seat for bowel movements. The funnel and seat can be used simultaneously, reflecting the feedback from female astronauts. The UWMS seat may seem uncomfortably small and pointed, but in microgravity conditions it is ideal. It provides ideal body contact to make sure everything goes where it should.

The UWMS includes foot rests and handles for astronauts to avoid floating. Everyone positions themselves differently as you “go” and constant feedback from the astronauts indicated that traditional thigh straps were a nuisance.

Toilet paper, wipes and gloves are disposed of in airtight bags. Solid waste in individual leak-proof bags is compacted into a removable fecal container. A small number of fecal containers are returned to Earth for evaluation, but most are loaded onto a cargo ship that burns upon reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere. Currently, fecal waste is not processed for water recovery, but NASA is studying this capability.

“Going” beyond the Earth

In space, every part of the water cycle is critical to survival, and advances in technology can make a fundamental difference in mission efficiency and success. As we prepare to bring humans back to the Moon with Artemis and look forward to the first human mission to Mars, life support systems will play an important role in keeping our astronauts safe and healthy as they live, work and learn farther than ever. from the earth. before.

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