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Anything but EasyGoing to the bathroom in space is anything but an easy procedure. To explain what happens on the International Space Station and the Soyuz spacecraft, Space.com spoke with veteran astronaut Mike Fossum. The three-time space flier has spent time working with both types of toilets, particularly when he spent 165 days in space aboard the space station.
1) How do you go to the bathroom on the ISS?Slide 2 of 12
1) How do you go to the bathroom on the ISS?To go to the bathroom on the ISS, astronauts go into one of the two toilets (either on the American side or the U.S. side). After closing the door for privacy, there are different procedures depending on if you're urinating or taking a dump.
For "number one," use a hose and turn on the suction to pull away the urine, which is recycled and cleaned for drinking water. For "number two," perch on top of the "solid waste container." Insert a plastic bag into the opening. After finishing your business, seal the bag and push it into the container. This container is changed roughly every 10 days.Slide 3 of 12
2) How often does the toilet break?Slide 4 of 12
2) How often does the toilet break?On Fossum's second shuttle flight (STS-124) in 2008, his crew did a last-minute rescue operation for the astronauts aboard the space station. It turned out that a toilet pump failed unexpectedly, leading to a scramble on the ground. Somebody hand-carried a new pump separator from Russia to the Kennedy Space Center, where it arrived the day before launch. [Space Station Toilet Breaks Again]
"The crew was eagerly awaiting our arrival," Fossum joked. As for how often the toilet breaks, he said that it's an "ongoing maintenance thing" but that it's hard to quantify the breakdown frequency. He roughly estimated once a month.
Naturally, the astronauts are highly trained in toilet maintenance using a mock-up before heading to space. The toilet has different indicator lights to show if something is wrong; the most common problems are separator failures (which pull the liquid through the system) or problems with the substance used to treat the urine before drinking.
Fossum said the simulations on Earth are "very high fidelity," of course without the added complication of dealing with the liquids in microgravity. But aspects such as the tight quarters are definitely replicated well, he said.Slide 5 of 12
3) Peeing for scienceSlide 6 of 12
3) Peeing for scienceWhen collecting your urine for science — which happens often for astronauts — there certainly is a minor hazard: "Some losses are involved," Fossum said.
The astronauts use specially formulated bags to collect the urine. Men use a "condom-like device" to put the urine inside the bag. (Fossum wasn't sure how women accomplish this task.) Once astronauts finish their business, they seal the bag. The bag contains a bit of chemical, and the astronaut squishes the bag to make sure the chemical marker is distributed.
Next, they use syringes to pull samples out of the bag. These samples are stored in a special facility on the space station called the Minus Eighty Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI).
"That stops the biological action for the duration of the flight," Fossum said. The samples can remain on board for months until they are brought back to Earth, usually aboard a Dragon spacecraft that splashes down near processing facilities at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. [Life in Space: Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Video Guide]Slide 7 of 12
4) Doing your “business” in a spacecraftSlide 8 of 12