We Still Haven't Solved the Space Poop Problem

Wired digs into the surprisingly challenging issue as moon expeditions intensify
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2024 2:25 PM CDT
We Still Haven't Solved the Space Poop Problem
In this July 20, 1969 photo made available by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph beside the US flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.   (Neil Armstrong/NASA via AP, File)

Neil Armstrong left more than his footprints on the moon. As Becky Ferreira writes in Wired, he and his fellow Apollo astronauts also left nearly 100 bags of poop up there over various missions, where they remain to this day. For one thing, this raises the prospect of humans contaminating an extraterrestrial world with their fecal microbes. For another, it illustrates an easy-to-overlook problem that still exists as we humans ramp up our plans for moon expeditions—the complicated and very real logistics of space pooping. This is the main focus of Ferreira's piece, which provides an earthy education. Start with this, for example: "Basically, in space a human no longer has gravity to assist pulling the feces away from the anus," explains David Munns of John Jay College, City University of New York.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station use a hose and a head to suction out waste, a big advance from the early days, when phrases such as "fecal popcorning" were invented to describe unfortunate mishaps. "But scientists haven't developed a circular system that can dispose of all the biological waste produced by humans in space—urine, feces, vomit, and menstrual blood—which is a major technology gap for future human space exploration," writes Ferreira. The story explores some of the designs under review, which are not only vital to plans of returning humans to the lunar surface but may play a role in solving waste-management problems that still plague billions of people down here on Earth. Read it in full here. (Or read other longform recaps.)

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