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." This particular dump in 2009 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].
More Great Links
- BBC News. "'Toilet row' lowers space morale." http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/7973747.stm.
- Borenstein, Seth. "Space Station Toilet Broken: It's the Only One." Huffington Post. May 27, 2008. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/27/space-station-toilet-brok_n_103791.html.
- 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.
- Kruszelnicki, Karl. "Space Toilet." ABC News Australia. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2001/10/29/348188.htm.
- McLean, Demian. "NASA to Turn Astronauts' Urine, Sweat Into Space-Station Water." Bloomberg.com. November 14, 2008. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aWmhTsYjuH3k&refer=home.
- 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.
- MSNBC. "NASA: Colbert Name on Treadmill, Not Room." April 14, 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30217550/.
- NASA. "SP-400 Skylab, Our First Space Station." http://history.nasa.gov/SP-400/ch5.htm.
- Quick, Darren. "The New Space Toilet is a High-Tech Diaper." March 10, 2009. http://www.gizmag.com/space-toilet-diaper/11203/
- Saunders, Neil. "How did Apollo 11 astronauts go to the toilet?" http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/2006-01/1138467020.As.r.htmll
- Schwartz, John. "New Challenge for Space Station Crew: A Broken Toilet." May 28, 2008. Http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/science/space/28nasaw.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print.
- 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.
Knowing the exact time to launch a rocket into space is a science in itself. HowStuffWorks looks at how NASA schedules it launch times.