International Space Station Gets a Toilet Upgrade

Astronaut feedback was key in developing the new design

International Space Station Gets a Toilet Upgrade

(Photos by NASA)

The International Space Station (ISS) recently received some upgraded plumbing.

In October, a new space toilet called the Universal Waste Management System along with other supplies made its way to the ISS as part of a resupply mission. The toilet was designed using astronaut feedback, making it more user-friendly and easier to maintain than the ISS’s existing toilets.

“The toilet is a great example of including all the feedback from various crewmembers,” NASA astronaut Jessica Meir said during a National Science Foundation panel.

The new toilet is about 65% smaller and 40% lighter, with more efficient waste management and storage, which will help as more crewmembers come to stay on the ISS. In the absence of gravity, air flow is needed to pull waste away from the body when the toilet is in use. The new design begins air flow automatically as soon as the lid is lifted, which will help with odor control. It also has a more ergonomic design that requires less cleanup and maintenance, allowing crewmembers to dedicate more time to high-priority tasks rather than taking care of space plumbing.

For privacy, the toilets on the ISS are located in stalls similar to their earthbound counterparts.
For privacy, the toilets on the ISS are located in stalls similar to their earthbound counterparts.

Design features also now better account for the anatomical differences between men and women, something the old toilet model did not do as it was created long ago when there were few, if any, female astronauts staying on the ISS, according to Meir.

Since water is important to the life support systems on the ISS, the astronauts’ urine does not go to waste. The toilet’s urine transfer system pretreats the urine, then feeds it into a regenerative systems that recycles the water.

“We recycle about 90% of all water-based liquids on the space station, including urine and sweat,” says Meir. “What we try to do aboard the space station is mimic elements of Earth’s natural water cycle to reclaim water from the air. And when it comes to our urine, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee.”



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