Nature's call comes in zero G just as it does in one G. And to keep astronauts copacetic when the call does come, NASA's now-retired space shuttles feature the device pictured below--what the agency calls an "integrated, multifunctional system used primarily to collect and process biological wastes from crew members in a zero-gravity environment.”
You might call it a toilet.
The “waste collection system,” as it’s formally known, is located “middeck” in the crew compartment—just aft of the side hatch. And though it serves the same basic function as a terrestrial toilet, the WCS is a bit more complicated, as NASA explains on its website.
There’s a commode, urinal, fans, bacteria filter, and various controls—not to mention handholds and various restraints to position the body in a zero-gravity environment. Oh yes, and dual privacy curtains. It accommodates men and women.
Want to get an even better sense of what it’s like to use the bathroom in space? This “gigapan” image, created by Washington, D.C.-based freelance photographer Jon Brack, lets you zoom in our out and move left and right. Click “view all” to see the entire image. Click on the snapshots to get more information.
Want a full accounting of the WCS’s design and operation? Don't worry--NASA has created an entire WCS webpage.
The toilet on the space shuttle was known as the Waste Collection System (WCS) and collected human waste through air flow and the suction it created. Liquid waste was vented to space but solid waste was moved to a cylindrical container below deck and exposed to vacuum to dry it. Air used in these processes is filtered before returning to the crew module to avoid odor problems and remove bacteria.
Credit: Gigapan by Jon Brack
Instructions: To explore this gigapan, use the controls at the left of the image, click and drag with your mouse, or use your keyboard's arrow keys to navigate left or right and the plus and minus keys to zoom in and out. Click "View All" to see the entire image. Click on the snapshots to learn more about certain details.
See more at National Geographic's new Spaceflight HD hub.