It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone hears the call of nature. Even in space. However, doing your business in a weightless environment is a bit more challenging than here on Earth, with the absence of gravity working against your… goals.
Fortunately for astronauts living in lower Earth orbit, the space station comes equipped with a specially designed outhouse that makes going to the restroom way less awkward than it could be. In a new video, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti details the complex equipment needed for the station’s toilet–“the most unglamorous but often asked-about part of living on the International Space Station.”
Cristoforetti notes that the mechanics of the restroom all revolve around suction. To go number 1, astronauts use a special hose with a yellow funnel on top, and a switch on the side of the funnel turns on a fan inside the hose. This creates a suction effect that aids the entire process. Hydraulic equipment transfers the urine to a processing assembly that turns it into potable water.
For the less appealing number 2, astronauts perch on top of a tiny toilet seat attached to a metal waste container. Inside the container is a plastic bag–for holding, well, you know–and the entire apparatus is hooked up to a fan that creates the same suction effect as the hose. Once the astronaut is finished, he or she closes the bag and pushes it down inside the container.
When the waste container is full, some poor astronaut has to swap it out for an empty one–a process that usually happens every 10 days, according to Cristoforetti. Those containers then get put on a Progress resupply spacecraft, which burns up during its descent back to Earth. However the most recent Progress didn’t quite make it to the space station this time around, so the astronauts are stuck with that extra cargo for a bit longer than they would have liked.
Check out Cristoforetti’s demonstration of the space toilet below: