Twitter thread by @MaryRobinette: Let's talk about peeing in space.

Mary Robinette Kowal

Published: 2019-07-20 20:05:51


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Let's talk about peeing in space.

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Several people, in response to my NY Times essay, have said that women couldn't go into space because we lacked the technology for them to pee in space.

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When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity.

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And yet, they still made plans to send a man into space.

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When Alan Shepherd became the first American man to go into space, it was scheduled to be a fifteen-minute mission.

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Up.

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Hello space!

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Back down.

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They made no plans for peeing.

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Launchpad delays meant that Shepherd hit a point where he needed to go. Badly.

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He asked Mission Control for permission to go in his suit. After consultation with flight surgeons & suit technicians, they gave him permission to do so.

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So he wet himself & still went into space.

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Later, they solved this problem by developing a sheath, that looked much like a condom.

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It worked great in testing, but when the actual astronauts used it, the sheath kept blowing off and leaving them with pee in their suits.

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Was this about extended time in the spacesuit?

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The sheaths came in small, medium, and large. It turns out, the men were all saying that they needed a Large sheath.

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They did not.

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Subsequently, the astronauts called the sheaths were called "Extra-large," "Immense," and "Unbelievable."

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They had to tape a bag to their ass to poop.

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That worked well for Gemini and Mercury. And by well, I mean there was still urine in the capsule and it stank of feces.

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Apollo needed a different solution.

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Alas, they still had to poop into a bag, but for peeing, they could slip on a condom attached to a valve, turn the valve and have their urine sucked into the vacuum of space.

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If you timed it right.

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Open the valve a fraction too late, and urine escaped to float around the cabin.

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Open it too early and the vacuum of space reached through the valve to grab your manhood.

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Apparently, the venting of pee into space is very pretty. It catches the sunlight and sparkles.

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For the spacewalks, the Apollo astronauts were back to condoms that collected the pee in a bag in the suit.

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Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon, but the first to pee there.

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During Apollo13, everyone who has seen the movie knows that Fred Haise got sick. Do you know why, though?

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After the accident, they couldn't use the regular vent, because it needed to be heated to keep the pee from freezing.

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The alternate system caused droplets to float around the ship. Mission Control told them to stop dumping pee.

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It wasn't meant to be a permanent ban, but the crew didn't understand that. So they were stashing pee in every bag or container possible.

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The fastest option was to store it in the collection bags they wore in their suits. Haise kept his on for hours and hours, basically bathing in pee.

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He got a UTI and then a kidney infection.

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Finally, a decade later, NASA decides to send women into space. NOW they have a reason to come up with how to handle peeing in space if you don't have a penis.

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To launch and for a spacewalk, they developed the MAG

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Maximum Absorbency Garment.

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It's a diaper.

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The men switched over to using those because it was more comfortable and less prone to leave pee floating around the cabin than the condom sheath.

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They also developed a zero-G toilet so that astronauts no longer had to tape a bag to their ass.

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Peeing or pooping in space is now a lengthy process, involving a fan, a targeting system, and a fair amount of prayer.

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Fun pooping in space fact: Without gravity, the poop doesn't break off as it exits your body. You have to reach back and help with special gloves.

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Peeing is a little more straightforward. It's basically a funnel, a tube, a bag, and a fan for suction.

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Sometimes though, the toilet breaks down. At that point, they return to using "relief bags" taped to their ass and "manual urine containment."

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During a malfunction, it is also possible for a giant floating globe of pee to exit the toilet.

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Fun fact: Due to chemicals, it is bright purple and acidic.

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Fun fact: Poop regularly escapes, which is why you never eat a milk dud found floating in the ISS.

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All of which is to say that the reason women didn't go into space had nothing to do with lacking the technology to pee.

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We didn't have the technology for men to pee in space when they started either.

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And some days, the best solution is still a diaper or a bag taped to the ass

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Addendum with some FAQs:

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What about Farting in space? - It does not propel you. Astronauts have tried.

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What about belching? - Gravity keeps food at the bottom of the stomach. Burps in space tend to be accompanied by solid matter

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What about periods in space? - According to women who have been there, "It's just like a period on Earth."

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It turns out menstrual blood moves via a wicking action. Gravity can speed that up, but is unnecessary.

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Also, tampons exist.

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Fun fact: When Sally Ride was preparing to go into space, NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would be the right number for a week.

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She said, "No. That would not be the right number."

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They cut it back to 50...

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Fun fact: Gravity creates most of the sense of urgency for peeing, so in microgravity, astronauts can't always tell when they need to go.

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It's such a complicated process that they pee on a schedule.

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Fun fact: When Yuri Gargarin was on his way to the launch pad, he realized the suit-up had taken so long that he needed to pee. He got out of the truck and peed on the tire.

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Every astronaut to launch from Baikonur since has done the same.

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Women squat or carry a vial of pee.

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Self-promotion Disguised as a Fun Fact: In my novel #TheFatedSky, I have an ENTIRE CHAPTER about a zero-g toilet repair complete with spinning globe of urine.

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Alas, I had not yet learned that it should be bright purple so it is merely amber.

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FAQ: Erections in space? Officially, it's never happened.

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However, according to Mike Mullane in his book, Riding Rockets, he woke most mornings on the shuttle with his "wooden puppet friend"

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"I had an erection so intense it was painful. I could have drilled through kryptonite."