Unusual and interesting toilets from all around the world.

Toilets In Motion — Spacecraft Toilets

Toilets in Space

I once saw Jim Lovell, commander of the Apollo 13 mission in 1970, give a talk at Purdue University. Here was a guy who had flown to the Moon twice, one time on a mission that just barely made it back. What a career! But he opened his talk by saying that there was something he should get out of the way first, so people wouldn't be distracted thinking about their question and not pay any attention to his very interesting stories about his space missions. Yes, the most common question he gets is, "How do you go to the bathroom in space?"

Before you get all excited and start mailing me pictures...

Remember, these pages document toilets that I have seen. I haven't actually gone into space.

However, I have visited museums where these things can be seen.

Astronaut William Pogue wrote a book on the topic "How Do You Go To The Bathroom In Space?

It's not just astronauts — museums also get that question.

Spacecraft toilets from the Russian Mir space station.

This is the "How do they go to the bathroom in space?" display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, U.S.A. This is the museum on the National Mall in central Washington.

Below are the Human Waste Disposal Units from the Soviet/Russian Mir (or Мир) space station and the Soyuz (or Союз) spacecraft.

Spacecraft toilets from the Soviet or Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Soviet or Russian Soyuz spacecraft toilet configured for male use.

The Союз toilet is configured for male use.

ВХОД = inlet

ВЫХОД = outlet

Soviet or Russian Soyuz spacecraft toilet configured for male use.
Soviet or Russian Soyuz spacecraft toilet configured for male use.
Soviet or Russian Soyuz spacecraft toilet configured for male use.

The Мир toilet is configured for female use.

Soviet or Russian Mir spacecraft toilet configured for female use.
Soviet or Russian Mir spacecraft toilet configured for female use.

This urine collection kit is from a US-Russia Shuttle-Mir mission in 1994.

Until seeing this, I had no idea what the Russian for "urine collection kit" would be. УКЛАДКА "М-ПРИЕМНИКИ", as it turns out. Complete with so-called "quotation marks".

This is also in the National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington DC.

Mir / Shuttle urine collection kit.
Skylab space station toilet.

Going further back in history, Skylab was the American 1970s space station. The National Air and Space Museum has the backup Skylab, which the U.S. planned to launch but did not.

Here is the Waste Management Compartment on the backup Skylab in the National Air and Space Museum. At left are the Towel Retention Devices. The square opening into the bulkhead at right is the Wash Basin.

Beyond that, the white oval plastic device and the surrounding plumbing are labeled as the Waste Collection Facilities.

The U.S. Space Shuttle flew from April 1981 until July 2011. In 2016 the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum opened a new exhibit that includes its toilet.

Toilet on board the U.S. Space Shuttle.
Toilet on board the U.S. Space Shuttle.

The signs within the display say:

How did shuttle astronauts go to the bathroom in space?

It wasn't quick and easy to use a toilet like this. Here's the process:

  • Set up privacy curtains
  • Turn on the toilet
  • Position body carefully on seat or funnel
  • Adjust leg and foot restraints
  • "Go"
  • Clean up with wipes and put them in a trash bag
  • Loosen leg and foot restraints
  • Turn off the toilet
  • Clean toilet for the next user

How was the shuttle toilet different than the one you have at home?

  • No water
    In weightlessness, water and waste would not stay in a toilet, so this one "flushed" by air pressure.
  • Restraints
    Astronauts used thigh bars and foot restraints to keep from floating out of position.
  • Separated waste
    The system dried and stored solid waste for removal when teh shuttle returned to Earth. Liquid waste went through the urinal hose into a tank and was vented into space.
Toilet on board the U.S. Space Shuttle.
Toilet on board the U.S. Space Shuttle.
Toilet on board the U.S. Space Shuttle.

The Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, 30 kilometers or more west of Washington, has a great collection if you can manage to get out there. Ask at the museum in the city — there is a bus from central Washington every hour or two, it takes about an hour to get to the Dulles Airport, and from there you can take a Virginia regional shuttle bus. A taxi would probably cost at least $60 each direction, and parking at the museum is $15 per car.

They have lots of aircraft in a large hanger, with one wing holding spacecraft including the Enterprise, the first shuttle. It never flew in space, but it did fly in some drop tests — it was dropped from its 747 carrier to test its glide and landing characteristics.

And, they have further "How do you use the toilet in space?" exhibits, in which it's shown that on earlier flights you didn't use a toilet, you used something like a diaper or just a plastic bag.

Below are pictures of the artifacts and transcriptions of the labels.

Skylab 3 urine collection and transfer assembly.

Urine Collection and Transfer Assembly
Skylab 2

This device was carried in the Skylab 3 command module in 1973. It was assigned to Alan Bean but was not used. Liquid waste (urine) was collected in such a unit, which was worn by an astronaut and had roll-on cuffs to provide personal sanitary protection. The urine was transferred through a tube to a tank, then vented into space.

Transferred from NASA Johnson Space Center
A19770900000

Spacecraft toilets.

Fecal Collection Bag (at left here)
Skylab

Porous bags like this were installed in the Skylab toilet to capture solid waste, which was then dried, stored, and returned to Earth for analysis of the astronauts' digestion and metabolism.

Transferred from NASA Johnson Space Center
A19770931000

Fecal Collection Assembly (at right here)
Apollo

These two bags make up the fecal collection assembly, part of the personal hygiene system used by Apollo astronauts. These bags were not flown. This self-contained system gave the astronaut flexibility and control in a weightless environment and allowed for simple and hygienic disposal.

Transferred from NASA Johnson Space Center
A19750739000

Astronaut diapers.

Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk
Space Shuttle

This type of undergarment was developed for female astronauts on early Shuttle flights to wear during launch or spacewalks. Male astronauts would wear a urine collection hose and bag assembly. Now, most astronauts, male and female, choose to use ordinary, commercially available undergarments when wearing pressure suits.

Transferred from NASA Johnson Space Center
A20000679000

Continuing back in time, here is a fecal collection bag a urine transfer tube from Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing in 1969.

Fecal collection bag from Apollo 11.

These and the one below are back in downtown Washington at the National Air and Space Museum. The placard with these from Apollo 11 reads:

Liquid waste (urine) was collected in a Urine Collection Device, used in common by the crew of an Apollo spacecraft. Roll-on cuffs provided personal sanitary protection for the astronauts using the collection device. The urine was then transferred through the Urine Transfer Tube to a tank, from which the liquid waste was vented outside the spacecraft.

Fecal matter was sealed in a Fecal Bag with a liquid germicide and sealed again in an outer bag. This solid waste was then placed into a Sanitation Box built into the spacecraft.
Urine transfer tube from Apollo 11.
Waste containment bag from Mercury 3.

Finally, the earliest space toilet in my photographic collection: a waste containment bag from John Glenn's Mercury 3 mission.