(ORDO NEWS) — Using the toilet in zero gravity is more difficult than on Earth. But much more exciting. But it was not always so.
“I began to estimate the distance to other windows. And Stas was silent for a while and said thoughtfully: “Weightlessness… But how, I wonder, do astronauts go to the toilet in weightlessness?” – Hey, don’t you dare! I yelled. “You can’t stand it a little!” Julius Burkin, Sergei Lukyanenko. “Today, Mom!”
On May 5, 1961, NASA launched a man into space for the second time, after the first unsuccessful attempt. Live broadcast chained millions of Americans to TV screens.
The hero of the day was astronaut Alan Shepard. Due to various technical problems, the launch of the ship was constantly delayed, and although the flight was given only 15 minutes, Shepard lay in a spacesuit in the Freedom 7 capsule for the fourth hour and he was terribly thirsty to write.
While the viewers followed the reporters wondering what the astronaut was thinking at such a grandiose moment, there was a wild commotion in the Mission Control Center. Alan said that there was no strength to endure longer, and the specialists in a terrible hurry decided what to do.
The fact is that no one expected that the flight would be delayed, and, accordingly, there was no opportunity for the astronaut to go to the toilet. Finally the command came: “Do it right in the suit.”
The specialists decided that it was not dangerous, except that it was now impossible to control the astronaut’s heartbeat. The electrodes that gave these signals went crazy as soon as the warm jet reached them. But the flight was successful.
The second American astronaut Gus Grissom was quite ready for toilet problems. According to legend, he flew to suborbita in a giant diaper made up of several women’s pads. Adult diapers were not yet sold.
Later, when the Americans began to fly into orbit, astronauts began to be equipped with a “more advanced” system. Special urinals collected urine, which was stored in the ship until the end of the flight, and during the Apollo program they began to be thrown into outer space.
To solve a more complex physiological problem, the Americans glued a special bag to the anus with adhesive tape with inner walls covered with absorbent material.
After relief, the astronaut cleaned the body of impurities with a special protrusion of this bag, after which he carefully peeled it off, added a preservative inside and threw the sealed bag into the trash can.
For privacy, the astronauts were allowed to turn off the onboard video camera during this process. According to American periodicals of those years, there were cases when such a package was peeled off at the wrong time.
Including because of this, many astronauts were depressed by such a system, but before the advent of the Shuttle, they had to put up with it. In order to somehow alleviate the suffering of space explorers, NASA developed products for them that allowed them to use packages as little as possible.
With care for the astronaut
In the USSR, they were initially preparing not for a 15-minute human suborbital flight, but for a real orbital one. Therefore, the issues of life support for astronauts in space were approached thoroughly. If the Americans did not supply their astronaut with even the simplest urinal, then Gagarin, who flew three weeks earlier, could, if necessary, satisfy both small and large needs in flight.
Such exceptional care for the first cosmonaut today may seem strange, but everything is explained by the fact that an “abnormal” option was considered if the Vostok did not deorbit on command at the right time.
And in this case, it was supposed to land in 3-5 days, when the Vostok, according to the laws of ballistics, had to independently descend from the satellite orbit. In this case, the so-called automated control system was developed, that is, a “cesspool and sanitary device”.
But, since the deorbit went according to plan, Gagarin used this device only for small needs, and then, most likely, out of curiosity. As you know, Gagarin, contrary to the scheduled launch schedule, stopped the bus and went to the toilet shortly before the flight.
Girls are easier
In the USSR, Korolev entrusted the development of automated control systems for cosmonauts to Machine-Building Plant No. 918.
The main task of this enterprise was the creation of a spacesuit and an ejection seat, but since the first cosmonauts had to use the sewage device without leaving their seats and without removing the spacesuit, they decided that Zvezda should be entrusted with its development.
The first automated control systems appeared in astronaut dogs. Excrement after a certain period of time was sucked out from under the tail, and moss was used to absorb an unpleasant odor. By the way, have you ever wondered why almost all astronaut dogs were bitches?
It turns out that it was also because it was somewhat more difficult to develop a sewage device for males. However, the first such systems did not differ in perfection: it happened, that the dogs returned to Earth in a filthy state. ACS for people were a much more serious development and were created from scratch.
Fundamentals of “computer engineering”
“The operating principle of the automated control system has not changed since the first Vostokov flights,” says Alexander Alexandrovich Belov, designer at NPP Zvezda. “In weightlessness, separate reception of liquid and solid waste is used, and here vacuum suction replaces the earth’s gravity.”
Even on the very first systems, to satisfy a small need, the cosmonaut opened a tap that connected his urinal to the urinal.
At the same time, the fan automatically turned on and pulled a portion of the liquid into the urinal, where it was absorbed by the absorbent material, and the air involved in the process was cleaned of harmful and unpleasant odors in a special deodorizing filter.
For solid waste, there was an insert in the receiving device, temporarily placed under the astronaut. The elastic curtains at the entrance of the liner were rolled up in preparation for the flight, leaving the entrance open.
Upon completion of the process, the astronaut used sanitary napkins, then dropped the liner curtains, and they completely covered the contents. And so that during the time when the shutters of the liner were still open, the waste was kept inside, the fan provided air flow.
Moreover, the walls of the liner were two-layer – porous on the inside and sealed on the outside, while the bottom, on the contrary, was porous on the outside and sealed on the inside: thanks to this, the waste could not leak due to the vacuum created. The system was fairly easy to use and more hygienic than the American one.
If the first automated control systems only remotely resembled an earthly toilet, then decades later, progress became inevitable. The current toilets are already close to their earthly counterparts both in terms of ease of use and in appearance.
Only they are much more expensive and require more time to use. Firstly, when in great need, you need to fasten yourself to the toilet seat: this is done not only for convenience, but also because in a space toilet a person is partly transformed into a projectile with a jet engine. And secondly, there is no sewerage system in space and astronauts have to spend some time on waste disposal.
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