In The Museum: Toilet Training
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, September 2009
Dane A Penland
(Page 2 of 2)
The space shuttle’s toilets are based on the Skylab model, and also operate with a fan and a vacuum. “No matter how much training you’ve had on the ground in how to operate it,” says Neal, “it’s difficult to actually use the first time. So when you finally do succeed, there’s a bit of celebration; they announce to everybody, ‘Okay, I went!’ It’s an accomplishment to master it in microgravity.” And until astronauts learn to operate the system by rote, there are step-by-step instructions.
The International Space Station’s toilets are based on the Russian Salyut model, which also uses a fan and vacuum. Engineers on board the space station are conducting experiments to separate urine from feces in order to recycle the water. “It’s a major long-term concern,” says Cathy Lewis, a curator in the Museum’s space history division. “After fuel for launching, water is the second-heaviest component that needs to be carried in order to preserve life. If they can recycle waste in any way, it would save them a great deal.”
What’s the future for space toilets? “The current system works well enough,” says Lewis. “I wouldn’t say pretty well. No one seems to like it, but there aren’t really any alternatives.”