NASA's Peggy Whitson Reveals How Astronauts Poop in Space

Pooping in space is a little trickier than it is here on Earth.

by Josie Rhodes Cook

Chalk this up on your list of reasons not to visit space anytime soon. In a recent interview, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson talked about spending 665 days in space, and about one thing that astronauts have to do on the International Space Station just like we all do here on Earth: poop.

Whitson has spent more time in space than any other American. In a new interview with Business Insider, Whitson makes it clear that she really loved her time there — except for the whole bathroom aspect of space station life. At one point during the interview, Whitson revealed how astronauts poop in space, and it’s apparently kind of challenging. Who knew?

Number One and Number Two

Whitson told Business Insider that urinating when you’re on the ISS is actually “relatively easy.” Astronauts there just use a funnel with a fan that suctions their pee away before it can float off and cause a rather messy situation. After about eight days, it’s mostly converted into drinking water for the astronauts. Yum?

But pooping in space is another matter entirely. Whitson told Business Insider:

Number two… is more challenging because you’re trying to hit a pretty small target

How It’s Done

Astronauts apparently go “number two” into a hole (the “small target” Whitson spoke of) on top of a silver can in the $19,000 Russian-made toilet on the ISS. A fan is then used to vacuum-suck the poop away.

That poop is then sealed in a plastic bag, but it might hang around the space station for a little while before trash day. Whitson admitted that sometimes, “After it starts getting full, you have to put a rubber glove on and pack it down.” And you thought space station life was all glitz and glamour!

NASA's Peggy Whitson poses for a festive picture in the cupola. 


Where It Goes

Eventually, the “waste” is sent on a cargo ship with other ISS trash and launched towards Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. I guess that’s one way to get rid of your poop.

There are hiccups, of course. Every now and then, the process doesn’t go as it should, or the toilet malfunctions just like regular toilets can, and the ISS astronauts get to chase down floating poop.

All in the name of science, my friends.

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