You may have heard last week that the potty on the International Space Station had broken, and no amount of jiggling of the handle or kicking the bowl would fix it. (Not to worry, the Space Shuttle Discovery is on the way up with replacement parts as we speak).
Via Boing Boing, Scientific American has an awesome rundown of how the lack of gravity and atmosphere in space make it difficult for astronauts to relieve themselves in a manner approximating normalcy.
For one thing, without gravity, rogue pee streams that ordinarily would drop harmlessly on the New York Times Book Review on the floor of your bathroom ball up and float endlessly about the cabin. So NASA invented little sucking tubes that you stick your weiner (or girl parts) in for quick evacuation.
Then there’s the problem of jettisoning the pee from the spacecraft:
Ejecting liquid waste has caused problems in the past. In 1984 the urine collection system on Discovery had to be shut down when a urine icicle formed that threatened to damage the craft’s protective heat tiles if it stuck around and broke free on reentry.
However, the difficulty of going number one is number two behind the difficulty of going number two. Let me explain why with some science learnin:
One cannot drop a deuce in an environment where things cannot be dropped
Here’s how former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart explains the process to Sci Am:
“You just float around for awhile doing things with a bag on your butt,” Schweickart tells ScientificAmerican.com. Then came the task of dislodging the excrement (no gravity, remember?) without spreading it everywhere. All told, Schweickart said, the process took about an hour.
It seems a shame that science hasn’t figured out a better process for this yet. Especially since Dr. Octagon is already armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols.