Whether they’re on a Space Shuttle mission or hanging out at the International Space Station (ISS), you’re bound to wonder at some point: Where do they go?
That is: How are astronauts supposed to go to the bathroom if they’re wearing a spacesuit? Do they have a tube attached to a bag or something?
How does an astronaut pee in space?
Before an astronaut can go about doing a space walk or other tasks, he or she needs to don a spacesuit — technically termed a Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or EMU. Just putting the whole thing on takes 45 minutes, after which the astronaut must spend another hour adapting to the lower pressure inside the suit.
As you can imagine, with all the time it takes, there definitely is a need for some way to manage number 1 and number 2 (pee and poo, urine and feces, etc) until the job is over, the spacesuit is “doffed” (taken off) and a facility can be reached.
The system NASA has devised for use in their most recent spacesuits uses a centuries-old method of dealing with the call of nature: a big diaper.
Technically, they’re termed Maximum Absorbency Garments, and are usually just called MAGs. They’re pulled up like underwear, and contain absorbent material just like baby diapers. The MAGs are used by both men and women. (Sometimes they’re even used right here on Earth — like when an astronaut needs to drive a very long way to try to kill a romantic rival.)
You know what’s spectacular?
The big diapers weren’t always the solution NASA used, however. On the Apollo missions, for example, the astronauts used something more like you described — a bag attached with adhesive to the astronaut’s behind (a fecal containment device, or FCD), and a condom-like attachment connected via a pipe to a pouch (called a urine collection device, or UCD) on the front side. (Since all the astronauts at that point were men, they didn’t need a system that would work with a woman’s anatomical differences.)
And then what? They would send the pee out into space.
Back in the 1970s, Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart told the magazine Co-Evolution Quarterly, “The most beautiful sight in orbit, or one of the most beautiful sights, is a urine dump at sunset.”
He’s not kidding. He adds, “It’s really spectacular.”