On Friday night, while a distracted world read about President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis, a $23 million space toilet launched into space.
This toilet, which astronauts and cosmonauts will test on the space station for three years, will eventually be the latrine NASA astronauts use on missions to the moon and beyond. It’s costly because the machine — called the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) — is part of a system that recycles urine into drinking water.
“And when it comes to our urine on ISS, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!” NASA astronaut Jessica Meir said in a press release about the space toilet.
The toilet launched into space Friday from Wallops Island, Virginia, on an Antares rocket, along with some 8,000 pounds of supplies, including new vegetable crops and cancer treatment research.
It’s critical that life-support systems on space missions, like toilets, can regenerate vital supplies. A round-trip mission to Mars, noted NASA, won’t have any “opportunities to top off the water supply.” The space station is the only place NASA can test a water-regenerating space toilet.
The funnel, seen above, captures urine, while the seat captures “bowel movements” (poop). Foot restraints keep astronauts “from floating away.”
Unlike urine, the new space toilet won’t recycle water from poop. The solid waste is stored in a fecal storage canister. Most of these canisters are placed on a cargo ship that’s sent to burn up in the atmosphere, just like meteors (“shooting stars”), which romantically shoot across the nighttime sky.
So when you’re wishing upon your next shooting star…beware.