Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

MICHELLE THALLER: A really fun question is that when astronauts are in space they're not experiencing gravity, so how does digestion work? We sort of think of food moving down in our bodies, it seems that maybe gravity would have something to do with that. The amazing thing is that it really doesn't and this was one of the first things we discovered when we sent animals first and then people up into space. Some people wondered if you could swallow, if you could digest at all without the force of gravity. And it turns out that the act of peristalsis, the way your throat and your intestines squeeze themselves, will actually move food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all and you can even test that with people lying in hospital beds. When you think about somebody that's actually lying down, there's no force of gravity that's pulling food in one direction or the other. The human body is actually pretty good at moving food through without the force of gravity. Now other part of this is what happens when the food comes out the other end, because this is a natural thing that all humans do every day.

Well, you've now reached the wonderful science of space toilets. They actually act with suction. Now if you've ever been to the dentist's office and the dentist wants you to spit and he holds up a little cup with a tube attached to it and there's suction that takes the water down the tube. A space toilet acts very much that way; there's suction, there's a current of air that actually draws the waste down so it can be disposed of. And, honestly, sometimes it doesn't work perfectly. This is one of the things that astronauts have to deal with. When you think about the word 'floater', that has happened, where something escapes and you need to go get it. Some of the worst parts of human space flight in the very early days, like in Gemini all the way back in the 1960s, was people would collect their urine in a little plastic bag and sometimes they broke. So there have been some people up there and some very bad circumstances. Today, the toilet on the space station works very well and suction brings everything down and the best thing I can compare it to is the dentist's spit cup.

They actually have a little video camera so you can see if anything is floating around in the toilet before you get up. Yeah.

  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.


Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Dinosaurs suffered from cancer, study confirms

A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.

Surprising Science
  • The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
  • After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
  • The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Keep reading Show less

David Epstein: Thinking tools for 'wicked' problems

Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!

Big Think LIVE

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.


Keep reading Show less

Map of the World's Countries Rearranged by Population

China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is. 

Strange Maps

What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

Keep reading Show less

Can a quantum strategy help bring down the house?

Study finds quantum entanglement could, in principle, give a slight advantage in the game of blackjack.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash
Surprising Science
In some versions of the game blackjack, one way to win against the house is for players at the table to work as a team to keep track of and covertly communicate amongst each other the cards they have been dealt.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast