$23 million for new space station toilets — but how do they work?

/ 12:24 PM September 30, 2020
20200930 International Space Station

The ISS is to be equipped with more comfortable toilets. Image: HO/NASA/Roscosmos/AFP

The new International Space Station toilets, which are scheduled for delivery on Tuesday, Sept. 29, have cost the American taxpayers an astronomical $23 million (around P1.1 billion). The good news is that they will make life more comfortable for the astronauts onboard the space station and also do a better job of recycling waste.

Named the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), the new toilets developed by NASA are much more compact than the existing space station facilities. Along with a 65% reduction in size and a 40% cut in weight, they are also equipped with footrests and handles that help prevent crew members from floating away at what might be a critical moment.


News that the latest design is equipped with a seat will also be welcomed by female astronauts. Last but not least, NASA has promised that the new equipment will be easier and faster to maintain and clean.

As for the details, crew members will urinate into a funnel connected to a hose and use the new seats for bowel movements. The waste will then be sucked away by a titanium dual fan separator. As an added bonus, the new separation system, which is fully automatic, does not need to be triggered by the astronauts — an innovation that should contribute to a better-smelling atmosphere onboard the space station.


20200930 International Space Station toilet

NASA has developed new toilets that are more compact and easier to use for the astronauts on the International Space Station. Image: NASA via AFP Relaxnews.

Collected urine will be pre-treated and recycled into water directly in the station. Fecal matter will be stored in containers that are sent back to Earth for evaluation. However, most of these will burn and disappear upon entering the atmosphere. Meanwhile, toilet paper, wipes and gloves will be thrown away in waterproof bags.

The new system will be tested over three years, alongside the existing toilets on the space station, until work to dismantle the space station begins in 2024. Thereafter, it could be included in designs for craft that will undertake missions to Mars or in future stations located on the Moon. CC

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TOPICS: human waste, International Space Station, NASA, Recycling, toilets
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