When astronauts have to go, NASA wants them to boldly go.
A new space toilet is heading to the International Space Station, with official name “Universal Waste Management System” (UWMS). (If it’s NASA, there has to be an acronym). The new toilet is smaller than the current toilets aboard the station, is more user-friendly, and includes 3-D printed titanium parts.
The new version of the UWMS. Credit: NASA
NASA says these are just some of the upgrades that make it better suited for use in future deep space exploration missions. While the new toilet is being installed on the ISS to make life a little better for the space station astronauts, the system will also be tested for use on the new Orion spacecraft, part of the Artemis missions to the Moon.
In hoping to make the new toilet more user friendly, engineers gathered feedback from astronauts and set out to design more comfortable attachments that would make “boldly going” in space a more enjoyable experience. In particular, the new design better meets the needs of female crew members.
Parts of the UWMS. Credit: NASA
Also, the new toilet design will allow for increasing the amount of usable water that can be recovered. Since 2008, astronauts’ urine has been chemically treated and processed, which turns it back into potable water that is re-consumed. As former ISS astronaut Don Pettit said, “Yesterday’s coffee becomes tomorrow’s coffee.”
While going to the bathroom in space is just part of life, its also expensive. The new design, built by Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems International, cost more than $18 million USD. But, that’s a bargain, says fellow space journalist Eric Berger at Ars Technica:
Quite honestly, $18 million for a new and improved space toilet is a relative bargain. Addressing bodily functions in space is one (of many) hurdles standing in the way of sending lots and lots if people into space. https://t.co/EgCLdwgbg2
— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) September 24, 2020
The new toilet is part of a resupply delivery targeted to launch next week, carrying tons of science and supplies up to the orbiting laboratory. Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo craft is currently planned for launch on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020 at 10:27 pm EDT with its 14th resupply mission to the International Space Station. If you want to watch the launch, live coverage from Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia, will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website, with prelaunch events Monday, Sept. 28, and Tuesday, Sept. 29. See more info and updates here.
The Northrop Grumman Antares rocket, with Cygnus resupply spacecraft onboard, is seen in this black and white infrared photograph as it launches from Pad-0A, Wednesday, April 17, 2019 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Other items on board the ship are a new plant research experiment and a special virtual reality camera designed to immerse you in a spacewalk.
If you want more info about the space toilet, check out the Reddit AMA that was held on Friday, September 25 at 12 pm EDT, at reddit.com/r/space, with Melissa McKinley who leads the NASA team working on the UWMS, and Jim Fuller of Collins Aerospace, and program manager for UWMS.
And then there’s this classic description: