Science Questions

How do they process body waste in space?

Tue, 3rd Sep 2013

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Robert asked:

How do they process body waste in space?


Dominic -  Body waste in space, well in fact, a lot of it, you ship back to the Spaceship One in Flightearth now. If you're on the International Space Station then you have these what are called progress spacecraft that come every month or so and they'd leave new supplies, food, etc. And then once you've taken the food off those, you basically put the body waste back in there and then you send it back to the earth. Things like water, you donít really want to be transporting large masses of water around. So, there is actually a process on the space station where you take the wee from the astronauts and you can extract drinking water from that and then the other constituents of that pee, you just put back in that spacecraft and send back to earth.

Historically, back in the Apollo era, you would just throw it overboard basically and you would have these ice crystals of human waste, flying off the side of these Apollo spacecraft. But the reason why they donít that anymore is because those ice crystals are moving incredibly quickly and if they collide with other satellite, they can be very damaging and they can smash very expensive spacecraft.

Chris - That would be rather ironic to be taken out by a blob of human excrement if you're a very expensive satellite or whatever.

Dominic - Ironic, but in fact, still a threat today because some of these stuff is still there from 40 years ago and itís still just whizzing around in orbit around the earth.


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I can see future archaeologists hunting down Apollo excrement to learn more about the Apollo astronauts and food.

I'm surprised that the ISS can't freeze it, then build a slingshot or cannon to de-orbit it, as well as give the ISS a little orbital boost.

A medium-term deep space mission such as traveling to Mars may still have a food/excrement exchange, but a long-term mission would have to have provisions to bio-decompose it, and hopefully grow new food.

Certainly illnesses, and fecal-oral illnesses would have to be controlled with deep-space explorers. CliffordK, Tue, 10th Sep 2013

I'm for dehydration and shooting it to Earth on the night side, you'd get a nice meteor and a carbonaceous coprolitic achondrite if it made it to the ground, more "stuff" for us meteorite dealers to sell.  To boldly go where no marketing has gone before. distimpson, Tue, 10th Sep 2013

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