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How Do Astronauts Go to the Bathroom?

Boys watch Christmas Eve broadcast from Apollo 8 astronauts in space.  Photo by Bruce Dale.
Boys watch Christmas Eve broadcast from Apollo 8 astronauts in space. Photo by Bruce Dale.

It’s a common question. Very common, in fact.  Just how do astronauts answer nature’s call?

Stop by the National Air and Space Museum’s “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit and you can see a replica of the space toilet–a $30 million investment–used by NASA’s space shuttle astronauts.  The mechanism, visible in this panoramic photo of Discovery’s “mid-deck,” required training and practice.  (Ironically, female astronauts had an easier time using the toilet’s funnel device than their male colleagues did.)

And what became of the waste? Liquids were vented into space, but solids were stored on board for the duration of the mission. Because, as museum staff member Michael Hulslander points out, releasing a solid-waste projectile into space, where it would travel at nearly 5 miles per second, could be “bad for business.”