21 April 2013

Are you ready for [ahem] evacuation?

April 22 is Earth Day, a day for...well, at least being aware of the fragile beauty of our world and perhaps, for the more ambitious among us, doing something tangible to maintain or improve the world around us, like planting a tree, starting a garden, mowing the lawn, going vegan, whatever strikes your fancy and doesn't hurt anyone. (I know that's a long sentence, but it is grammatically correct and syntactically plausible, so I'll let it stand.)

On the theme of Earth Day, what could be more closely related to the Earth than earth itself? More specifically soil. Yet more specifically, night soil. And what we do with it. Still more specifically, what we do with it when we have left the Earth for the void. That's a clever segue to a discussion of space toilets. And THAT is a clever segue to an excerpt from THE DREAM LAND Book III.

The final act of the novel involves the preparations for a planet-wide evacuation and thus the construction of interstellar space vessels. Our heroine Gina (a.k.a. Jinetta-d'Elous), having studied rocket science back on Earth before she found the interdimensional doorway that has led to her lifelong adventures on the planet Ghoupallesz, was appointed to oversee the evacuation program. At that time there were only 31 years remaining until a comet would strike the planet. Not everyone is in agreement on what to do but most are going along with the evacuation plans.

Needless to say, having no direct experience or knowledge of space toilets, research was required to be able to present a plausible case for one particular design I'm now offering to NASA free of charge. (Some, though not all, of the follow excerpt benefited from my reading of Mary Roach's book Packing for Mars, which quite adequately [or more than adequately, depending on how squeamish a reader might be] covered the problems of defecation in zero-gravity, as well as other things nobody with a standard plumbing system ever ponders.

Excerpt from THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora":

In Sanduu the toilets were coming along very well. That was something to be pleased about, at least.
Gina was walked through the plant for the inspection, even got to test one of them—without an actual deposit.
“So I just squat on top of this pipe?” she asked, removing her green and blue kaftan. One of her assistants held up the opened kaftan as a kind of curtain.
The space toilet consisted of a long tube rising like an elephant’s trunk from the floor of a closet-sized capsule barely large enough for a normal-sized adult to stand upright within. The upper end was open and featured a slightly wider lip coated in ceramic. The person using the device lowered his or her back end directly down upon the ceramic ring. The oblong opening in the center of the ring, being less than the width of a human hand, made precise placement crucial. A tight seal needed to be maintained because of the suction involved. As the exiting material was released from the body, the suction within the tube would remove it completely from the person’s orifice and the tube. Jets of disinfectant would follow down the tube from the underside of the ceramic ring. For urination, the reverse position was to be used. However, that presented problems when the same device was switched on. Suction! Gentlemen needed to be cognizant of the g-forces applied to their family orbs. Ladies needed to be aware of the possible stretching effects of the suction upon their fleshy nether regions, as well.
“Can it be adjusted according to a person’s tolerance?” Gina asked quite seriously once she had hooked up her kaftan again.
“There is only one setting,” said First Director of Aerospace Toiletry Services Rogar-Tolourus. “We expect to give lessons on the proper way to sit on the device. As you can see, in the forward-facing position, a male would not have the capacity there for the orbs to slip into the tube. Not even width for accidental slippage. Females would be more at risk since...because of their...parts.”
“Could a supplemental panel be added to the ceramic ring or held in place by the user so as to restrict the area that is submitted to suction?”
“Most definitely,” said Tolourus. “Nobody wants bodily materials floating about the cabin area willy-nilly.”
Gina had to smile. She instantly translated in her head his phrase as ‘willy-nilly’ and was amused at her choice of words. Sauresk meant ‘haphazardly’ in Ghoupallêan, which was the word he had spoken, yet somehow discussing bodily fluids was better served using ‘willy-nilly.’ Poor willy. All the poor willies subjected to that suction, she thought. And the poor nillies of each female crew member!
“So each crew member must place his or her fleshy parts directly against the ceramic ring to maintain the suction area?”
“Yes, that’s it.”
“Is there any provision for disinfecting the ceramic ring between users?”
“Oh, yes. We thought of that.” Tolourus grinned like he did when she first removed her kaftan to test the toilet. “After the user has exited the cubicle and confirmed the closure of the hatch, there is a switch he or she presses which starts a process of irradiation. That kills all life forms within the cubicle.”
“I understand.”
“The irradiation takes about a pon so no one may use the toilet until the irradiation process is finished.”
Tolourus seemed quite proud of their product. It did the job, took minimal space, was self-cleaning, and could be fitted into any model of vessel.
“And where does it all go?” she asked, returning to a straight face.
“The suction prevents the material from escaping into the cabin environment, of course.”
He waved his hand in front of his face as though trying to expel a bad smell. She was momentarily offended. Never mind that she had boldly squatted before them to test the device.
“The materials are pulled down the tube and remain in a holding tank. From there, they are treated with appropriate chemicals and can then be used as fertilizer in the on-board garden units.”
It was beginning to make sense to her why the Sanduu facility was charged with constructing both spaceship toilets and food production units.
“If the holding tank should become full,” Tolourus explained, a little giddy, “the excess can be jettisoned into space.”
“Such a welcoming card,” she muttered with a smirk. She regarded the others in the inspection team. None were amused. “However, it is necessary. Better the feces and urine burn up being bombarded by gamma rays than staying aboard to freshen the air.”
They chuckled.
“Speaking of gamma rays,” Tolourus spoke, “I read your report. It was news to me—indeed, to many of us in the toiletry science community—yet we know the seriousness of preventing...that kind of radiation. So...given our work with various kinds of fecal matter, I believe we may have a solution.”
Gamma radiation, with its highly charged photons, could easily penetrate the walls of a spacecraft and over time do great harm to the humans inside. Building stronger vessel outer skin did not seem to be the answer. She had always considered a layer of lead in her vessel designs. Nor could she imagine a crew living inside lead-shielded flight suits for many years. The best that could be done was to reduce the effect of gamma radiation by half. Granite or concrete seemed to work well, but she could not believe a granite spacecraft would get off the ground. Right now, her job was less about how many people survived to reach their destination than getting them off this planet in time.
“There is an empty interval between the outer and inner walls of the vessel, right?”
She nodded.
“We can pack it with ordinary soil. In fact, we have a unique clay here in Sanduu that would be perfect for that purpose. And when it shifts or a gap becomes detected, it can be filled with run-off from the toilet holding tanks.”
“You want to fill the walls of our space vessels with shit?”
“According to your calculations—most impressive, by the way, for someone who is not an expert in the field of fecal properties—such organic materials should absorb the radiation, thereby reducing it. When the material should be deemed saturated, it could be flushed out into space and restocked with fresh...”
“Fresh shit.”
“So we will be out there cruising in our spaceshit?”
It wasn’t complicated. She took the word for ‘shit’ (ush) and added it to the word invented for ‘spacecraft’ (xænafi) to form the word xænush.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Tolourus and everyone laughed.
Then someone broke wind.
“Don’t worry,” said Tolourus, “there will be adequate ventilation on board the vessels.”

A quick search of "space toilet" yields more than enough pictures of, for example, the Space Shuttle apparatus (above). Note the two grips for the constipated astronaut to keep his or her balance in zero-gravity. Note the plethora of hoses and tubing for complete transportation of the evacuated materials. There is plenty of ceramic surface for minimal buttock comfort, too, far more than the Sanduu Toiletworks is producing.

Not too sure what this device would leave behind, however, one wonders just how one could resist giving up anything and everything once fixed into the position. Oh, the imagination of sci-fi artists!

For short trips of the up to orbit and back variety, astronauts need only a reliable pair of diaper pants. Very similar to the smaller sized "big boy" pants marketed by diaper companies. They are undetectable beneath spacesuits, to prevent embarrassment, of course.

Watch what you eat!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. I am enthralled! But do the Sektuateans get newspapers for that special time?

  2. Hilarious blog! It reminds me of the Big Bang episode where Howard miscalculated his outerspace toilet design :-)