NASA developing spacesuit with built-in toilet for emergencies.

People still make jokes about the “Russian Space Pen,” but there’s one thing no one jokes about in the space program: going to the bathroom. In a zero-gravity environment, human waste becomes a sanitation and engineering nightmare. This is why the spacesuits NASA is creating for the Orion spacecraft will hearken back to the Apollo suits of the 1970s – they’ll have built-in toilets.

It sounds like they’ll need it, too. Here’s NASA’s description of the new Orion spacecraft and its upcoming missions:

“For the first time in a generation, NASA is building a human spacecraft for deep-space missions that will usher in a new era of space exploration. A series of increasingly challenging missions awaits, and this new spacecraft will take us farther than we’ve gone before, including to the vicinity of the Moon and Mars…Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain astronauts during their missions and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.”

Heading to deep space means longer missions and more time for things to go wrong. Fortunately, the new spacesuits will help ensure the astronauts survive. They’ll be able to drink, eat, breathe, defecate, and urinate for up to six days without leaving their suits. That last one is tricky, however: for men, a condom catheter and tube can take care of urine, but NASA scientists are still developing a solution for women. According to NASA’s Kirstyn Johnson:

“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. You start looking at the camping industry… [and] you start seeing a lot of these portable urination devices that you can carry around with you so you don’t have to squat in the middle of the forest… It’s kind of taboo to talk about but it’s interesting, because it feeds into stuff like this that we’re trying to do with spacesuits.”

Of course, the Orion craft will also have a space toilet (which is a marvel of engineering in itself) but these spacesuits are the next-best thing when you’re strapped into a chair with a full bladder, re-entering Earth’s atmosphere at 17,500 miles per hour. Sometimes you just gotta go.


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