The International Space Station Is Getting a New Futuristic Toilet

From peeing in a "roll-on cuff" to pooping into a bag, we've come a long way.
Derya Ozdemir
Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor doing maintenance work on the current toilet.NASA

Waste management can be a dirty matter, especially in confined spaces, and from peeing in a "roll-on cuff" to pooping in a bag, astronauts have had their share of experiences in space-bathrooms for 58 years. Later this year, the International Space Station (ISS) will receive a new toilet that is called the Universal Waste Management System, and it will be an upgrade from the current lavatory technology.

This new toilet will help facilitate mixed-gender crews and will be easier to use. It will also be testing grounds for zero gravity toilets to be used during long space flight, such as a journey to Mars.

It certainly is an upgrade when you think about the fact that astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, was forced to pee his pants on the launchpad in 1961. Oh, how times change! 


The current toilet is vastly outdated

The current toilet that is on the U.S. side of the space station was designed in the 90s which is why it suffers from problems such as "being sensitive to crew alignment on the seat." Moreover, the outdated toilet can "result in inadvertent fouling of the collection hardware with fecal material," states the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. 

In short, the crew has been struggling with aiming and stating it is clunky to use, especially for women astronauts which makes for a pretty sexist toilet indeed. 

Standardizing the toilet experience

Now, the UWMS is meant to take care of those problems and standardize the toilet experience in space, leading to the development of smaller fecal canisters to improve stowage efficiency, NASA stated. Here is a look at the prototype with urine storage tanks in place:

The International Space Station Is Getting a New Futuristic Toilet
Source: NASA

This new toilet will have a different shape and will include toe bars for the astronauts to hook their feet into so that they won't have to worry about floating when using the bathroom

The goal

The goal except providing a comfortable bathroom experience? Making sure we are not leaving human waste behind and risk contaminating other planets.

The International Space Station Is Getting a New Futuristic Toilet
A jett bag beneath the Apollo Lunar Module, Source: NASA

This is crucially important since, during Apollo 11, astronauts left 96 bags of human poop in diapers on the Moon, and now, no one knows what has become of them. Is anything alive in them? Have we started life on the Moon since feces are brimming with organisms? Who knows. 

The launch due no earlier than fall

The launch is expected to happen no earlier than fall, a NASA spokesperson told Space; however, the spacecraft that will take the toilet up is yet to be selected. 

Once the toilet is up there, it will fly on NASA's Orion spacecraft that will be on a voyage to the Moon soon.

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