The space toilet. It looks familiar and foreign at the same time. The body of the toilet is still white, still shaped like an elongated bowl. But where a regular toilet would be austere porcelain, the space toilet is loaded down with tubes, levers, and foot straps that astronauts can use to stay in place. Also, unlike a regular toilet, the space toilet cost about $30 million to engineer.
Smithsonian Mag posted a long look at the space toilet on Wednesday, detailing what it's like to go to the bathroom in space and picking out some of the differences between the original toilets used in the NASA shuttle missions and the current model installed on the International Space Station. Apparently the space toilet is an extremely popular subject; a former astronaut and a staff member at the National Air and Space Museum both said that how astronauts relieve themselves is one of the most common questions about space travel.
A $50,000 replica of the shuttle waste disposal system sits in the National Air and Space Museum's "Moving Beyond Earth" exhibit (that name surely isn't meant to be a double entendre, but it's hard not to consider it one, given the toilet's popularity at the exhibit). The International Space Station's newer toilets took a paltry $19 million to engineer and is actually more advanced than its shuttle-based predecessor. It can purify urine into drinkable water. In general, though, the ISS toilets rely on the same technology as the models NASA invented decades ago.
The toilets use air pressure to suck out liquid waste, which is jettisoned into space. Solid waste is a bit tricker to deal with. Enter the thigh braces and foot straps. Using the bathroom in space is serious business, but NASA still has a sense of humor about it, as you can see in this video describing the training process astronauts go through to prepare themselves for the space toilet.
It seems like anyone would ease up and have a sense of humor about using the bathroom in space after this training--the positional trainer, which has a camera placed inside the bowl, must remove what little vanity was involved in going to the bathroom very quickly.