NASA has recently revealed that a new space poop system is likely to debut in the first crewed Orion spaceflight. Winning designs may be seen flying in space anytime from 2021 to 2023 during Exploration Mission (EM-2), which is poised to bring astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time in a half-century.

The burning question is: how do astronauts deal with the call of nature out in space?

To relieve themselves, they use the Extravehicular Mobility Unit during spacewalks on the International Space Station, an innovation introduced in 1981 for the space shuttle program comprising a diaper-resembling garment useful for both men and women. NASA is currently looking for a solution that can be easily incorporated on the spacecraft for future manned Orion missions.

The space agency’s officials weren’t as prepared back in 1961, when Alan Shepard was poised to become the first American and the second person to step in space. Before his 15-minute flight on May 5, 1961, he would sit through a five-hour delay and endure the need to go to the bathroom, recalled.

Shepard’s silver spacesuit was not designed to get wet, as it was equipped with medical sensors that might get destroyed. The launch control then was left with the choice to let him go.

The American space agency had devised better ways to address bodily functions such as elimination since then, but it had not been an easy journey given a number of space waste-related glitches and challenges.

Urine Droplet Issues

In 1963, for instance, astronaut Gordon Cooper had used a urine collection device inside the one-person capsule during a 34-hour mission. Systems started to fail, however, entailing the need for him to manually control the spacecraft and maneuver a risky atmosphere reentry.

A probe showed that his urine bag had leaked, and droplets reached the electronics and hobbled his automatic systems.

Poopy Woes

In a test of human survival in space for two weeks, astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman stayed in Gemini 7 for 14 days. There was no toilet, only a plastic bag for when doing a number 2 was necessary.

Space toilets back then did not become more sophisticated by the launch periods of the Apollo missions. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, for instance, dealt with fecal gathering bags that stuck to their bottoms when it was time to go, and microgravity could get to work and prompt separation of the icky material from its designated container.

To solve these different issues, astronauts consumed a high-protein and low-residue diet. Space potty training is much less intimidating today, with space toilet training in motion and airflow-harnessing toilets to draw waste away from the human body. The ISS had similarly designed commodes for this purpose.

The ISS has had urine getting recycled into drinking water via a filtration system. Fecal matter, on the other hand, usually gets organized along with other trash in capsules burning up in the atmosphere.

Longer manned missions to Mars will obviously be an entirely different matter.

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