Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Kubrick Was Right In The End

You have to feel some level of pity for the nation’s space agency when reality rears its ugly head. The most common question poised to NASA officials when they are out speaking to the general public is this: how do the astronauts go to the bathroom in space?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is NOT easy. First – there is the obvious lack of gravity. Things float. Everything floats. (You know what I’m trying to say here.) Worse still, the lack of gravity means that things we don’t normally worry about tend to take over – like surface tension effects. That means that liquids don’t drip and fall away but they cling and they even “run up” a surface – like skin. Why? Because in the absence of gravity, the power of liquid adhesion (surface tension) takes over. Now we’re talking about a real mess in a very tight space.

The scientists and engineers of NASA have been struggling with these issues for decades – ever since the astronauts had to go to the bathroom in plastic bags in a weightless state. (That couldn’t have been easy…)

Then along came the shuttle and the International Space Station, so they decided to build a space toilet that actually works. During the first few shuttle flights – well – it didn’t. The first guys in the shuttle on the ground will heartily attest to that! But – they fixed it and now it works fairly well. The photo shown here is the updated International Space Station model based almost wholly on the Space Shuttle model and years of experience.

I’d love to get into the details – but there are many reasons why I won’t. None of them have anything to do with national secrets and all of them have to do with the family rating of this blog. But suffice it to say that God outfitted males and females with different equipment and the machines have to interface somewhere. Nuf said about that…

In the prophetic movie, 2001-A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, foretold that hassle, and the instructions for the movie version of a space toilet can be found by clicking here. It was pretty much right on.

NASA has prepared several videos to meet the public demand about space toilets. If you really want to know, click here.

Going to the bathroom in an underwater habitat isn’t nearly as complicated – that is until you want to empty the tank while underwater. That is or will be discussed in the article, “A Day in the Life of an Aquanaut”.