How Astronauts Manage Bodily Functions in Space

Have you ever wondered how astronauts deal with bodily functions in space? If so you are not alone. Children, journalists and even prince Philip have enquired about what the procedure is.

Toilets in space shuttles are not so different to look at than those on Earth. However due to lack of gravity the usual flush system is not suitable. Instead a vacuum system is used and the astronaut’s urine and faeces is sucked away by a strong air flow, (think of a vacuum cleaner and you will get the picture.}

The unisex toilets have foot straps to prevent their users from floating away during the operation at hand. They have to have training before taking flight, to make sure that when they sit on the toilet, which has a four inch hole to go in, they hit the right spot.

Toilet training is made easier by the use of a closed circuit television which has an inbuilt bull’s eye system. Aiming correctly is an important part of getting ready to go off on a mission into space.

Both male and female crew members can choose to urinate standing up into a contraption which resembles a funnel on a hose, which attaches to the toilet on a pivoting bracket. There again they can sit down and urinate that way if they prefer.

The system on board separates solid waste from liquid, and releases the latter. Solid matter remains on board until being off-loaded after landing. The air used for the toilet system is returned to the living area, but not until the bacteria and smell is removed.

During times when it isn’t possible to visit the toilet astronauts can wear a maximum absorbency garment, also known as a MAG. These clever suits can retain up to 2000ml of waste.

When it comes to keeping themselves clean astronauts have to be reasonably fastidious, as bacteria is just as dangerous on board a space shuttle as it is back down here on Earth.

Showers can be taken in a large cylinder which has a plastic sleeve around it, thus preventing water from floating away. Crew members can spray themselves with a nozzle of water and then, having rinsed off, suck the water back off of their skin with a hose attachment.

Menstruation isn’t the problem that scientists thought that it would be in the past. Apparently they imagined that gravity would inhibit the correct passage of menstrual flow, but it turns out that the human body knows exactly what it’s doing. Therefore female astronauts don’t have to prevent their monthly period from occurring when on a mission any more.

The most up to date way to keep teeth clean in space is to chew oral cleaner, similar to chewing gum in consistency, after a meal or to use a tooth cover which is made from gauze that is germ free, along with edible tooth paste which gets rid of tooth cavity odour. However, most astronauts tend to use the old fashioned method of spitting their used toothpaste into a tissue and getting rid of it.

As there are no washing machines in space changing clothes can’t be done so frequently. Underwear is changed every two days and pants every five days. Then, so I am told, the clothes are dumped. Hopefully not into space as we don’t want the first alien encounter ever to occur to take place between a pair of astronauts undies and a little green man.

All in all taking care of bodily functions is a purely practical matter that just takes a little more forethought than it does back here on the ground. It isn’t very glamorous, but then bodily functions never were, and at least toilet practice must be more fun for astronauts than it is for the rest of us.