Behind the sky-high toilet sent to the space station is the history of astronauts’ bitter toilets

In early October, NASA sent about 3.6 tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station using a Wansa cargo ship. One of the most notable is a new toilet. Yes, even tall astronauts need to face the three vulgar problem of and. But to put it another way, even a toilet that goes into space has to be turned into a high-sharp outfit.

Behind the sky-high toilet lift-off is an astronaut’s poignant toilet history

Behind the sky-high toilet sent to the space station is the history of astronauts' bitter toilets

Pang Zhihao, the country’s chief scientific communication expert on space exploration technology, told Science and Technology Daily that the new space toilet, called the Universal Waste Management System, cost $23 million and took more than six years to develop, making it the most expensive toilet in history.

Why is the space toilet so expensive, how hard is it for astronauts to go to the toilet? Let’s talk.

Sky-high space toilets are really good

The new space toilet weighs 45 kg and is 71 cm high. Pang said it is 65 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the toilet currently used by the space station, reducing the amount of valuable space it takes up on the International Space Station and integrating it into life-support systems for different spacecraft.

In the past, toilets on the International Space Station were designed to be more suitable for men. In order to better suit female astronauts, the new toilet has been improved in design and is more ergonomic. Its seats are higher and slightly tilted. This allows female astronauts to sit on the toilet and urinate with a special funnel and hose. Previously, female astronauts had to urinate with the help of other special equipment.

The new toilet features a 3D-printed titanium fan separator that generates powerful suction and draws excreta into the toilet to ensure they don’t float.

Compared to the old space toilet, the new toilet also has a feature, open the toilet lid, the air flow will automatically spray out, thus controlling the spread of odor. Titanium alloy materials also greatly improve the toilet corrosion resistance and durability, can save more cleaning and maintenance time, so that astronauts can put more energy into scientific research and exploration tasks, without having to brush the toilet such things overworked.

In space, water resources need to be recycled in large quantities. It is estimated that astronauts will drink more than 700 litres of treated urine if they live in space for a year. The urine recovery efficiency of the new toilet has been further improved, and the proportion that can be converted into drinking water after treatment has increased. Its urine purification function is achieved through the electrochemical system of urea bioreapers, which can effectively convert urea from urine into ammonia, which is then broken down into water and energy. The pure water, which recycles and filters the urine excreted by astronauts, is said to be cleaner than any water on Earth.

Pang said the annual transportation cost of providing 2,200 liters of drinking water to the International Space Station is as high as $22 million, and the station’s drinking water storage capacity is limited. If humans want to leave low-Earth orbit and explore interstellar space further, water recharge will be more difficult. The new space toilet is designed to achieve a 98 percent liquid recovery rate before humans travel to Mars, this time to the International Space Station for testing.

Special training is required to use the toilet well

To be proficient in using the space toilet, astronauts need to be specially trained. When detoging, they want to make sure that the buttocks are close to the edge of the seat cushion and that the toilet is completely sealed, bearing in mind the relationship between the buttocks and the toilet seat cushion so that the anus can accurately target the center hole with a diameter of 10 cm. It’s all about making sure the stool is sucked away without floating out of the toilet gap.

To this end, the Johnson Space Center in the United States specially designed toilet trainer, in the toilet installed a camera, astronauts can observe and adjust their buttocks through the screen, to find the most accurate positioning.

Although the Soviet Union lost to the United States in the moon landing competition, but since then focused on space station research and development, in the long-term in orbit, environmental control system and other aspects of experience, created a better space toilet. Although the United States has also developed a space toilet, but the effect is not satisfactory. In 2007, the U.S. simply ordered a space toilet from Russia for $19 million, which it said was more cost-effective than it had developed. But then the U.S. resumed space toilet research and development at a cost of more than $100 million.

Those can’t look back on the toilet failure

Is such an expensive space toilet necessarily safe and reliable? No.

On May 21, 2008, the toilet in the Russian section of the International Space Station malfunctioned, containing only solid excreta that could not be treated. The Russian space agency urgently created an alternative and asked the United States to use the space shuttle Discovery, launched in early June.

On 19 July 2009, the toilet in the United States section was also broken because six litres of water used to flush the toilet had mistakenly flowed into the separator and elsewhere. Fortunately, the space shuttle Endeavour docked on the space station. The 13 astronauts, including the station’s crew and Endeavour’s crew, had to queue up to go to the shuttle’s toilet. However, toilets on space shuttles are not designed for frequent use. In order to protect this precious “single seedling”, the ground command center has strict restrictions on astronaut detocation: every two toilets need to be separated by more than 6 minutes; The astronauts held on for a month, finally looking forward to the next shuttle sent to the new toilet.

The worst toilet failure in history occurred during the first mission of the space shuttle Columbia in 1981. During the mission, the toilet was blocked. The astronauts faced adversity with open air and put on a stool collection bag. On the way back, however, the waste stored in the end-of-life toilet was transferred to the ventilation system, which spewed out like a flower, floating everywhere in the cabin, and the scene was extremely tragic.

Astronauts are specially trained to remove debris from the capsule. For example, for large solids, can be directly “captured”, liquid needs to be absorbed with absorbent paper and other materials. Fine particles or broken ends are cumbersome to wait until they are concentrated in the air port filter as the air circulation in the cabin is concentrated before they can be cleaned up. Everyone in this sweep fully practiced the training content, but the face is that they did not think of the clean-up goal in any way in training.

The failure of the space toilet brings not only health problems and sensory stimuli, but also threatens the health of astronauts. Pang said the U.S. has found highly resistant strains of antibiotics in space station toilets that could evolve into pathogenic bacteria that can sicken astronauts.

To design a better space toilet, in June, the U.S. launched a “Moon Toilet Challenge” to solicit “Moon Toilet” designs for the 2024 moon landing program. The “moon toilet” must meet a number of design requirements, such as being able to function normally in both microgravity and lunar gravity, being compatible with male and female users, and being able to urinate and defy at the same time.

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How astronauts can be “convenient” without a space toilet

When man explores space, he will inevitably face the problem of excretion. How can astronauts be “convenient” when there is no space toilet?

It would be nice to say if the mission didn’t take long. For example, in 2003, when China’s space hero Yang Liwei carried out the Shenzhou V mission, during the flight, which lasted 21 hours and 23 minutes, detocation was detocation with the help of a urinal collection device similar to wet urine in the space suit. The device can turn urination into a floc-like solid by absorbing water, and can deodorizing, but there is nothing it can do about stool.

As space travel time gradually increases, the excretion problem of astronauts is no longer a problem that can be solved without wet urine. Although the astronaut’s food has been specially treated, can ensure nutrition at the same time, to minimize the remnants of digestion, in order to reduce the number of stools and weight, but there should always be.

In the early manned space activities, astronauts deal with excreta in a more free-spirited way.

In the 1960s, when the United States implemented the Apollo program, astronauts had not used toilets in space, and separate collection devices were required. One of the stool collection bag has a funnel-like round bag mouth, when using it to cover the buttocks, discharge the stool, and then pour into the fungicide, seal the bag mouth after shaking, kneading, so that the internal substances fully mixed. At one point, the Apollo 10 crew did not know which astronaut’s operation went wrong, so much so that a stool floated into the capsule, so that the astronauts were frightened. With such a painful experience, the Apollo astronauts who later completed their landing on the moon threw their poop collection bags on the moon.

Astronauts treat urine more simply and directly. For a long time, they discharged wastewater directly into space. This behavior was later stopped not only for environmental reasons, but also for the costs it brought. When the Mir space station was decommissioned in 2001, it lost 40 per cent of its efficiency due to the use of drained bathrooms and toilets, solar panels wrapped in layers of urine and bath water. The urine even hit the panels at high speed with ice, causing no small damage.