Nasa wants its future spacesuits to come with a built-in toilet.
The space agency hopes the ‘toilets’ will replace the leaky diapers currently worn by astronauts while allowing them to stay in their spacesuits for longer.
Nasa has has yet to come up with a design, but experts suggest such spacesuit toilets are likely to be similar to those used by Apollo-era astronauts.
These featured a fecal bag and ‘condom catheter’ to catch urine.
While this may work for men, Nasa admits such as design is unsuitable for female astronauts, and its still working on coming up with a solution.
Nasa astronauts currently wear diapers, called MAGs (maximum absorbency garments) which are effective for short periods of time but can leak and are not viable for long periods of time
The new suits, called the Orion Crew Survival Systems Suits (OCSSS), will be worn by astronauts on Nasa’s Orion spacecraft.
The Orion missions will send astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit for the first time in half a century.
In the event of catastrophic failure to the ship or depressurisation, the astronauts will be able to survive by living in their suits for days at a time.
In an interview with Space.com, Nasa engineer Kirstyn Johnson said: ‘That is a really long time.
‘To live in a suit with all of your waste right by you for that long of a time, it could get gnarly pretty quickly.’
This includes urine, faecal matter and menstrual fluid.
Currently, diapers – or maximum absorbency garments (MAGs) – are used whenever astronauts need to use a spacesuit for either a spacewalk or an EVA.
Whilst the diapers are largely effective, they have been known to leak occasionally.
‘No major design changes have been made to the waste collection garment over the years, as it still fulfils all the necessary requirements,’ Ms Johnson said.
‘We’re looking for a solution that will be included on the vehicle for upcoming manned Orion missions,’ she added.
‘EM-2 will be the first flight of a long duration waste management device.
‘There is a possibility that it could be a part of a future Mars trip timeline, but we’re not focused on that aspect right now.’
Astronauts have used MAGs for missions dating back to the late 80’s are easy to use and effective, but can leak occasionally. Nasa will still use these diapers in future missions but is developing a long-term waste disposal system for use in the event of emergency
The diapers are easy to take off and put on but are limited by their absorbency and a longer term solution is being investigated by Nasa.
In the previous moon missions, the crews had no toilet on board.
The crew, who were all male, had to wear ‘condom catheters’ which attached to the penis and fluid would accumulate in an attached bag that was outside of the suit.
As for solid waste, the astronauts defecated into collection bags that were built into the suit.
This system was prone to failure, so much so that the astronauts were placed on a specific diet to restrict the amount of faecal waste.
The astronauts were also responsible for sealing and disposing of the filled bags.
HOW DO ASTRONAUTS GO TO THE TOILET?
On board the ISS there is a toilet which has several attachments.
As there is no gravity in space, liquids do not flow but accumulate in floating globes.
To counter this problem, there are hoses which are used and provide pressure to suck the fluid from the body.
Each astronaut has their own personal attachment.
When a toilet is not available or the astronaut is on a space-walk, the astronauts use MAGs (maximum absorbency garments) which are diapers that soak up all the waste.
They are effective for short missions but have been known to leak occasionally.
Nasa is aiming to develop a suit which allows for long-term spacesuit usage and complete independent disposal of human waste.
On the moon missions there was no toilet and the all-male crew had ‘condom catheter’s that attached to the penis and the fluid was fed to a bag that resided outside of the suit.
According to an 1976 interview with astronaut Rusty Schweickart, the condom catheters came in three sizes: small, medium and large.
Despite the practical advantages of having the right size, the astronauts often ordered the large ones and this resulted in a leakage of urine in the suit.
To combat this, Nasa renamed the sizes as large, gigantic, and humongous to appease the male ego.
There has yet to be an effective female equivalent developed, something Nasa aims to change for the Orion missions.
Male astronauts on the moon missions had no toilet on board the shuttle. They wore condom catheters which fed the liquid waste to a bag that resided outside the suit. Faecal waste was removed via collection bags. The astronauts collected and disposed of this waste themselves
In 2016, Nasa launched its ‘Space Poop Challenge’ to the public for ideas on how to develop a better system.
The competition concluded at the start of this month, but according to Ms Johnson, there was ‘nothing we could use fairly quickly in the Orion program’.
Although flawed, the waste disposal system is likely to be similar to that used in the 1970s.
The principle issue with the previous method stems from the fact that all the astronauts were male.
In the 21st Century, women and men both constitute the crew for space exploration.
Female astronauts were never on board the moon missions and therefore have always used the MAGs. Nasa is aiming to emulate the success of the male condom catheter for females that accounts for the differences between the anatomy of males and females
The difference in anatomy provides a tricky engineering probem for human waste disposal systems.
Whilst both males and females can use the MAG system, a disposal system for longer missions has never been developed for females.
‘For females, it gets a little harder, obviously, because of the geometry of a person’s body, and then you have to deal with issues like pubic hair,’ said Ms Johnson.
Issues also arise as the lack of gravity in space requires a specific fixation mechanism.
Pubic hair can make a stick-on method difficult and temperamental.
Ms Johnson also mentioned that the team have to take into consideration of how the system would operate whilst a woman is on her period.
Although these can be avoided with removal of bodily hair and medication to limit or stop menstruation, Nasa says it does not expect its astronauts to be forced to do so.
Ms Johnson said: ‘You want a design that any normal, functioning woman should be able to use without putting additional requirements on them
‘So you have to design something that can basically encompass most of their public hair, while also protecting them from infections like [urinary tract infections] without fecal matter getting in the way. Stuff like that.’
To design an effective method of disposal for women, Nasa has looked at different industries.
‘You start looking at the camping industry and you start seeing a lot of these portable urination devices that you can carry around with you so you don’t have to squat in the middle of the forest.
‘[There are] these paper bags that you can take to a concert and women pull out of their purse so they don’t have to sit on a disgusting toilet,” Johnson said.
“It was almost a revelation for me as a female to see all these products — like, who knew these existed? And it’s kind of taboo to talk about but it’s interesting, because it feeds into stuff like this that we’re trying to do with spacesuits.”