Engineers at NASA are trying to develop a spacesuit that features an onboard waste disposal system so astronauts don't have to go running to the toilet when they have to in case of emergencies.
That kind of feature hasn't appear on NASA's spacesuits since the Apollo era, and as Space.com reports, the in-development spacesuits will likely have similarities with the 1970s variants.
Orion Crew Survival Systems Suits
The new spacesuits will be called Orion Crew Survival Systems Suits, and astronauts will wear them aboard Orion, the space agency's next-generation spacecraft that'll carry humans beyond low Earth orbit. Orion can't exactly voyage toward Mars, but it's powerful enough to send humans to the Moon and then back to Earth.
The Orion will still have a toilet, it's worth mentioning. As Space.com reports, The OCSS won't replace a fully functioning proper toilet, but NASA aims to design the suit in a way that'll allow the wearer to survive for six days in case the Orion depressurizes or runs into any kind of emergency requiring astronauts to remain in their suits. That means the people wearing them must be able to eat, urinate, and defecate without taking them off.
Female Waste Disposal System Still Being Developed
The spacesuits will come with a fecal bag similar to those used in the Apollo suits, plus a condom catheter for collecting men's urine. However, a urine collection system for women still isn't fully developed yet, according to Kirstyn Johnson, a NASA engineer leading the design of internal systems for the Orion launch and landing suit.
"For females, it gets a little harder, obviously, because of the geometry of a person's body, and then you have to deal with issues like pubic hair," she said. Pubic hair presents a challenge because in microgravity, liquids have the tendency to get stuck on surfaces they come into contact with. There's also the matter of making a disposal system for women that takes into account their monthly periods.
Theoretically, women could simply have their pubic hair removed or take birth control to lessen the chances of them having their periods, but according to Johnson, NASA doesn't want to impose such rules on women's bodies.
What it ends up being remains to be determined, but NASA could integrate within the suit some sort of vacuuming system to absorb the urine. For now, some aspects of the female waste disposal system remain in secret because they're proprietary, but the design could be similar to what female fighter pilots wear.
NASA is studying different fields, including the camping industry, to look at the best possible solution for the spacesuit's disposal system. They've encountered surprising apparatus used by humans for urinating or defecating easily in remote places.
"It was almost a revelation for me as a female to see all these products — like, who knew these existed?" said Johnson.