How do astronauts use toilets in space?

May 15, 2007

An interesting read sent to me by a colleague. I always thought that instead of taking normal food, astronauts/cosmonauts consume some sort of special food, may it be multivitamins et al.

Courtesy : BBC News

A tour of a space facility in the US apparently prompted Prince Philip to ask how astronauts deal with “natural functions” in space. So how exactly do they go to the toilet (or should that be the loo)?

It’s all to do with air flow. On earth, in the West at least, your standard toilet is a water-flush affair, that takes waste and washes it down a pipe.

The lack of gravity on the shuttle and the space station mean a water-flush system is not an option. You don’t need a particularly vivid imagination to see the potential problems.

Instead, on the shuttle, urine and faeces are carried away by rapid flow of air.

The unisex toilet resembles a conventional loo, but with straps over the feet and bars over the thighs to make sure that the astronauts don’t drift off mid-go. The seat is designed so the astronaut’s bottom can be perfectly flush to make a good seal.

The good news for fans of convenience is that, on the shuttle at least, urinating standing up is possible. A funnel-on-a-hose contraption is included so that astronauts – both male and female – can urinate standing up. Or sitting down if they prefer. They just attach it to the toilet using a pivoting bracket.

The system separates solid and liquid waste. Solids are compressed and remain on-board to be unloaded after landing. Liquids are released into space. Nasa hopes one day to recycle waste productively.

Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada have said such recycling will be key to tackling any future mission to Mars in order to feed the astronauts.

The air used in the space shuttle’s toilet system has to be filtered to get rid of the smell and bacteria before it is returned to the living area.

Incinerated waste

On the International Space Station, the fundamental principle is similar. The fan-powered air-flow toilet system stores waste. Urine is sucked up and stored in 20 litre containers which are dumped into the Progress resupply craft. The ship is later ejected into the atmosphere, where it burns up.

For solid waste, a plastic bag covered in holes is placed inside the toilet. Air is sucked through the holes so everything ends up in the bag. The elasticised top closes and the bag is pushed into a metal container. A new bag is popped in for the next visitor. Again the waste heads off to Progress.

Space toilets have come a long way. In the book The Right Stuff and its film adaptation, an astronaut on an early mission feels the need to urinate during a massively delayed take-off. With no facilities provided – and no adult nappies, as used today during take-off and landing – he is eventually allowed to urinate in his suit, causing his sensors to go haywire.

And Prince Philip is among good company in wondering how astronauts attend to their bodily functions.

A spokesman for Nasa confirms it is a question much asked by children and journalists alike.

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Tony Blair announces Resignation

May 10, 2007

Tony Blair, British PM has announced that he would step down as PM on 27th June 2007 thus ending an era of 10 years.  more to follow http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/6639945.stm

Tony Blair has announced he will stand down as prime minister on 27 June.

He made the announcement in a speech to party activists in his Sedgefield constituency, after earlier briefing the Cabinet on his plans.

He acknowledged he had not always lived up to expectations but said he had been very lucky to lead “the greatest nation on earth”.

He will stay on in Downing Street until the Labour Party elects a new leader – expected to be Gordon Brown.

In an emotional speech, Mr Blair said he had been prime minister for 10 years which was long enough for the country and himself.

Brown tribute

Mr Blair earlier told the Cabinet he did not want ministers paying tribute to him, adding “that can be left for another day”.

But as the meeting was breaking up, Mr Brown said he “did not think it would be right to let Cabinet finish without offering thanks to the prime minister”.

He praised Mr Blair’s “unique achievement over 10 years and the unique leadership he had given to the party, Britain and the world”.

His comments were greeted by “much thumping of tables” by Mr Blair’s colleagues, the prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters.

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said it had been a “cordial, comradely” meeting with “quite a lot of laughter” and “leg-pulling”.

Mr Hain, who is a candidate for Labour’s deputy leadership, said Mr Brown would now “take up Tony Blair’s mantle in the next period of our government”.

The chancellor later made a joke about Mr Blair’s departure plans in the Commons.

Answering a question on employment, he said: “There are of course 600,000 vacancies in the economy as a result of the… actually there’s one more today as a result of announcements that have just been made.”

‘Good years’

Mr Blair’s election agent and close friend John Burton said he expected Mr Blair to continue as Sedgefield’s MP until the next general election, unless he was offered a major international job.

Former Cabinet minister and Blair ally Alan Milburn said thought the prime minister “slightly regretted pre-announcing his retirement” by saying he would not seek a fourth term.

I think he would have preferred to stay longer,” added Mr Milburn but he said the prime minister had had “a good 10 years” and had “fundamentally changed the country for the better”.

Mr Blair’s official spokesman insists he will remain “focused” on being prime minister until Labour has chosen his successor – a process expected to last seven weeks.

He said Mr Blair still has lots of work to do on domestic issues and had a number of international commitments in the run-up to this summer’s G8 and EU summits.

But with a new prime minister expected to be in place by the beginning of July, attention at Westminster has already shifted to his succession.

Mr Brown is unlikely to face a Cabinet-level challenge for the leadership as all of the likely contenders have ruled themselves out.

But he could still face a challenge from one of two left wing backbenchers – John McDonnell and Michael Meacher. The pair are meeting later to see if one of them can muster enough support to get on to the ballot paper.

‘Paralysis’

Candidates need the signatures of 45 Labour MPs to enter a contest.

Six deputy leadership hopefuls will also be battling for nominations to enter the race to replace John Prescott, who is due to stand down with Mr Blair.

Conservative leader David Cameron has said the country faces seven weeks of “paralysis” until Labour chooses a new leader, accusing Mr Blair of running a government of the “living dead”.

The Liberal Democrats have, meanwhile, tabled a Parliamentary motion urging the Queen to dissolve parliament and call a general election.

But European Union Trade Commissioner and close Blair ally, Peter Mandelson, denied that Mr Blair’s last weeks in office would be as a lame duck leader.

“‘He’s going of his own choice. He’s doing it at a time which he thinks is good for the country, is good for the government.”