Space, as we know, is the final frontier but what happens to the urban spaceman when he wants to boldly go. A bathroom isn’t rocket science but bathrooms in space have taxed the brilliant minds of rocket scientists.
What is a small step on Earth is a giant weightless step in space and we all need the bathroom from time to time.
Space offers some interesting physical challenges when it comes to bathroom design.
International Space Station (ISS)
“In space no one can hear you scream,” by the same token they also can’t hear you flush either. This is probably a good thing when you have to do everything in zero gravity.
On the Space Station the toilets actively remove whatever the spaceman or woman needs removing. When gravity is not in play they need machines to give them a bit of help.
The ISS carries its own miniature water treatment plant on board. This means that no water is wasted on the space station. Every spot of water is used and re-used.
The systems on the station work more efficiently than Earth based filtering plants because they have to recycle the urine of both the crew and laboratory animals so it can be used again as drinking water.
The treatment process is so aggressive that the water ends up cleaner than the water most of us use on Earth.
The inhabitants of the Space Station are aware of how precious their water is and whilst you might consume 50 litres of water in the shower they will use just 4 litres on bathing.
As we know the space shuttle has now been decommissioned, with Enterprise recently enjoying a flyover New York on the back of a 747 as it heads for its permanent home at the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum.
The Space Shuttle used a waste collection system. This system vented the liquid waste into space. Wherever we go we can’t help leaving a mess.
It would be fun to think that the first blow in an interstellar war might come from a chemical toilet and not from a laser beam.
As for bathing, there was no room for a bath on the space shuttle. The astronauts used wet towels coated with a body shampoo to wash their bodies.
Apollo and Skylab
As was shown in the movie Apollo 13 astronauts urinated in a relief tube which was then dumped into space.
On the seventies predecessor to the ISS, Skylab, there were showers on board. A flexible hose could spray nearly 3 litres if water for each shower. Used water would be sucked up from the shower enclosure into a bag and placed in the waste tank.
So next time you go to your bathroom and with ease use your toilet, basin and shower think about the pioneers who made and are making bathroom sacrifices so we can cross that final frontier.