Top 10 Moments in Space Bathroom History


1
A Beautiful Dump
This meteor shower is a beautiful sight, but some astronauts will tell you that an outer space urine dump is even prettier.
This meteor shower is a beautiful sight, but some astronauts will tell you that an outer space urine dump is even prettier.
Erich Schlegel/AP Images

In the fall of 2009, a few stargazers were surprised to learn that what they thought was a magnificent celestial phenomenon was nothing more than an outer space urine dump. Space shuttles only have a limited amount of room aboard, so astronauts regularly have to lighten their load by releasing their waste products. When urine is released out in space, it instantly freezes into a cloud of ice crystals. The sight of the sun hitting those droplets and transforming them into water vapor is quite astounding, according to some observers. Apollo 9 astronaut Russell Schweickart once said, "The most beautiful sight in orbit…is a urine dump at sunset" [source: Time]. As the urine hits the exit nozzle, it "instantly flashes into 10 million little ice crystals which go out almost in a hemisphere…a spray of sparklers, almost" [source: Scientific American]. The dump in question was unusually large -- about 150 pounds (68 kilograms) of urine and water, according to NASA, because the shuttle couldn't unload during its 10-day visit to the International Space Station [source: Space.com].

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Sources

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  • Chang, Kenneth. "Toilet is Fixed on Space Station." New York Times. July 21, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/science/space/21shuttle.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print.
  • CNN. "Astronaut arrested on attempted kidnapping charges." February 6, 2007. http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/02/05/space.love/index.html.
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  • Minkel, JR. "Getting a handle on space toilets." Scientific American, May 30, 2008. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-a-handle-on-space.
  • Moskowitz, Clara. "Space Station Toilet Troubled." Space.com. July 19, 2009. http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/090719-iss-toilet-trouble.html.
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  • Space.com. "Mystery Explained: Glow in Night Sky was Astronaut Urine." September 11, 2009. http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/090911-space-water-dump.html.
  • Space.com. "NASA Might Name Toilet for Comedian Stephen Colbert." March 24, 2009. http://www.space.com/entertainment/090324-colbert-space-toilet.html.
  • Universe Today. "Ultimate Recycling on the ISS: Urine to Water." http://www.universetoday.com/2008/05/16/ultimate-recycling-on-the-iss-urine-to-water/.
  • Wftv.com. "Arrested Astronaut's Diaper Allegedly Being Auctioned On eBay." February 16, 2007. http://www.wftv.com/news/11031425/detail.html.
  • Wilford, John Noble. "Alan B. Shepard Jr. Is Dead at 74; First American to Travel in Space. July 23, 1998. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1118.html.

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