There’s a ton of space-related news dominating the headlines right now. Billionaires are engaged in a space race, celebrities are riding along in rockets, and 1,500 pages of UFO-related reports were just declassified by the government. The age of space tourism may soon be upon us, but the age of space curiosity is already quite firmly here. Whether you end up on a tourism rocket, living in a space station a la Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, or just reading about the cosmic goings-on from the relative comfort of Earth, you’ve probably already got a lot of questions. One might start with: How, exactly, do they go to the bathroom up there?
It could seem low-brow or immature to ponder this when the idea of space exploration is so complex and—with the climate catastrophe going the way it’s going—even vital, but we think it’s quite reasonable to wonder. Here’s your answer.
What is the primary barrier to traditional bathroom use in space?
At the heart of this issue is gravity, or rather, the lack of it out there in space. The concept of gravity is a simple one we all know and understand: There is a force that pulls things down to Earth. That’s physics. We all get it.
In space, where there is less gravity, you float. Everything floats. Whatever isn’t secured to a surface will be suspended, which is why we see videos of astronauts zipping themselves into little sleeping bag contraptions when it’s time to doze. Dr. Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist, told Lifehacker that on the Space Station, astronauts exist in “microgravity.” They are still close enough to Earth to have a little gravity, but they’re essentially always in a state of “falling.” (Interestingly, she said, though their urine is basically “floating” inside their bladders, astronauts have reported that the sensation of needing to use the bathroom remains the same in these conditions.)
See more: How Do Astronauts Shit in Space? by Lindsey Ellefson