Space is the “best view for a bathroom anywhere,” says one NASA astronaut.
A curious young student asked NASA astronaut Bob Behnken the question on everyone’s mind on Monday (June 29) during a series of televised media interviews: How do astronauts go to the bathroom in space?
“I guess there’s not any delicate way to say this,” Behnken said. “We both wore adult diapers just in case we needed to use them while we were out during the spacewalk.” But, he said, it’s quite scenic.
When astronauts step out into space on a spacewalk, they can’t just pop back inside to quickly go to the bathroom. So they have to use maximum absorbency garments (MAGs), or adult-sized diapers.
But in addition to letting the youngster in on the secret, Behnken also commented on the experience of going to the bathroom while floating in the vacuum of space. And it turns out, it’s a pretty good time.
“It’s the best view for a bathroom anywhere,” he said.
Behnken also shared that astronauts sometimes even use MAGs while still aboard the International Space Station.
“I think sometimes you have to use them even before you get out the hatch,” he said. “The process of getting out for a spacewalk takes a long time, so you just got to be prepared.”
Astronauts start suiting up and preparing for a spacewalk many hours in advance. Not only do they have to put on the spacesuit, ensure it’s secured and go over the many tasks they have ahead of them, they also have to complete a critical step called prebreathing.
NASA astronaut Bob Behnken is pictured during a spacewalk to swap batteries and upgrade power systems on the International Space Station’s Starboard-6 truss structure, on June 26, 2020. Behnken was joined during the six-hour and seven-minute excursion by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy (out of frame). (Image credit: NASA)
During this step, they begin breathing pure oxygen in the suit, while still inside the space station. With the help of some light exercise, this step eliminates nitrogen bubbles in the astronaut’s tissues. While nitrogen makes up most of the air that we breathe on Earth or on the space station, bubbles of the gas can cause decompression sickness in extreme pressure situations, such as during a spacewalk or scuba dive.
Behnken embarked on a spacewalk on Friday (June 26) alongside fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and the pair will step out into space (wearing their MAGs) again tomorrow (July 1).
During both of these spacewalks, the two astronauts are replacing aging nickel-hydrogen batteries on the space station with new lithium-ion batteries as part of a long-running series of battery-swap spacewalks. The new batteries are longer-lasting, smaller and more efficient than their predecessors.
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