sit down and spread ’em

There are people out there who have no idea how difficult it is to crap in space, and until I read Mary Roach’s book “Packing For Mars” I was one of them.


“The NASA potty cam is an astronaut training aid. It provides a vivid arresting perspective on something you’ve had intimate contact with all your life but never really seen. Positioning is critical because the opening to a space shuttle toilet is 10 centimetres across as opposed to the 45.5 centimetres maw we are accustomed to.

toilet lighters found here

The camera enables you to see if your anus lines up with the centre. Without gravity you can’t reliably gauge position by feel. If your angle of approach is off you can sully the back of the transport tube or plug the air holes.

The re is an alternative positioning tactic called the two-joint method. The distance between the anus and the front of the seat should equal the distance between the tip of the big finger and its knuckle.

knuckle buster ring found here

Here’s something else you may not have considered.

Gravity facilitates what is known in aerospace waste collection circles as “separation.” In weightlessness, faecal matter never becomes heavy enough to break away and drip down on its own. Space toilets utilise air flow “drag” to pull the material away from its source. The seats are designed to also function as a cheek-spreader to facilitate a cleaner break.


Early Apollo missions used faecal bags rather than sit down toilets. The moulded adhesive ring at the top of the bag rarely fit and the adhesive pulled hairs. Worse, without gravity or anything else to foster separation, the astronaut was obliged to employ his finger. Also under consideration was a defecation glove. The astronaut would reach around and crap in his own palm then peel back the glove and dispose of the contents.


Given the complexity of this chore, “escapees” or free floating faecal material have been known to plague the crews. There is also the problem of “faecal popcorning”…..

You should probably buy the book if you want to know what that is.

Without gravity to pull things straight, bowel motions tend to curl as they’re coming out. Thanks to some filming done by NASA, their engineers are not only aware of the curl, they know its range of curvature and most likely direction.

The films featured male and female volunteers included gals from the nurses’ corps. The footage was classified as limited distribution but regularly travelled beyond their prescribed limits. They were very very popular.


Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 7:07 am  Comments (47)  
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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And I thought your title was about poker!;-)
    I suppose you’ve read Roach on space sickness? I think her TED talks are still up on Youtube.

  2. It was reviewed in the curent issue of the Fortean Times (my favourite magazine). Definitely a must read. I must look at her other works, She sounds like my sort of writer!

    • Go out immediately and buy one of her books Jams. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed

  3. Maybe I’m not as squeamish as others but I think the glove idea sounds totally sensible.

    A fascinating read. All science teachers could use this in the classroom to interest youngsters, especially teenage boys.

    • Maybe you should discuss this with your fellow teachers Mitzi

  4. A love a good Nurse already, I don’t think I need any more reasons!


    The King

    • Do you think your lovely wife would allow me to defibrillate you some time Your Majesty?

      • We can but hope!

        The King

  5. I think a guy named Donovan can help with all of that

    • haha….. that’s pretty silly but funny. and I’ve never heard it before either. Was it a hit for him?

      • Not on the scale of Mellow Yellow. Or even Wear Your Love Like Heaven. But it was very popular in certain unidentified western Canadian circles…

  6. I forget which astronaut it was but he is quoted as saying that “how do you go to the can in space?” is the question he gets asked most often.

  7. This is far too much information. It makes me glad I have a dull office job and am not floating about in space. What about those space stations where people live for months at a time. Are they expected to go the distance without ever masturbating once? Or is there a removal system for that, as well?

    • I can’t give away all Mary Roach’s discoveries…..

  8. Hard to believe I know, but I’ve never before pondered the challenges described above. I just assumed NASA had worked everything out.

  9. This makes me watch Star Wars in a whole new light.

  10. Diarrhea in space would probably lead to the entire mission being scrapped. This is why there is no spicy Indian dinner nights in space.

    • no baked bean breakfasts either…..

  11. Ok… that’s it. I’m not going to space. It’s just too much trouble for such a natural process!

  12. I think the lady with the bronze spool wedged between her cheeks might find the two little untanned circles on her bum a little tough to explain to her boyfriend.

    • He’ll be too busy pumping to notice

  13. There are people who would pay good money for that potty cam footage. Did this not occur to NASA as a way of offsetting the high cost of space exploration?

    • It occurred to me when I read the book 🙂

  14. Chia knuckle busters. Whoda thunk.

    That’s the real reason I became factory automation tech and not an astronaut: I hate dumping in my hand.

    • You should blog about that jammers

      • Hmmmmm . . .

  15. If your intended purpose was to never let me look at astronauts the same way again – well played.

  16. OMG I love mary roach you should read Stiff….

  17. i read Stiff and loved it. seems i have a few more books on my ‘must read’ list! i have a friend in the astronaut corps, and he has told me tales of life in ‘zero g’ that just rock your brain – and ‘turds in space’ is a favorite!

  18. ‘faecal popcorning’ – have you thought of subtitling your blog, ‘My mission is to introduce readers to concepts they only realise they didn’t want to know about after it’s too late’?

    • I prefer the surprise element

  19. See, I always find things here that I didn’t realize I wanted to know!

    • … or didn’t want to know 😉

  20. i foresee a growth industry here. a start up business that will be in demand as we venture forth. i’ve got the business plan. all i need now is a faecal popcorning trained engineer… hmmm… i may know one….

  21. There are people in the mens room at work who can’t crap with full gravity on a large toilet without getting some on the seat. Wonder how they would do in space.

    • Ewww….. glad I don’t work with your mates

  22. I’m nervous. What would this mean to my hemorrhoids? Would they get sucked into the toilet, leaving me to bleed to death in space? That’s totally gruesome. I am so not going into space.

    • hemorrhoids and suck should never appear in the same sentence

  23. I’m even more determined to become solar-powered, now.

  24. Ha, I saw her plug this book on The daily Show and I want to read it. I’m still wondering about semen. Because some of those missions take 6 months and that is way too long!

    I love you for 10 other reasons!

    • But you really love me for #7 don’t you Scott?

  25. Denny says Bronzez Partout time.

  26. OK NOT a fan of the glove method.

  27. All this time I thought my ineptitude at math and science was the reason I didn’t become an astronaut. WRONG.

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