Where’s the toilet roll, Major Tom?

It’s safe to say that we’ve become pretty comfortable with the convenience of modern-day toilets. Whether it’s in the privacy of our own home or a public toilet, we expect a certain amount of sophistication.


Certainly early domestic loos in the garden shed are a long way from the swish ones available today with hidden cisterns, soft-closing lids and eco-flushes.


Now we expect to find a flushing toilet to use wherever we go, although some public facilities leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps some of the most questionably hygienic or rather non-hygienic versions are on transport. Trains in particular often leave something to be desired in the smallest room.


How big?

Of course space is often compromised in these circumstances too. Travelling on a tiny 30 seat plane a few decades ago on a shuttle service to the Netherlands made needing the toilet interesting.  The door to the little room folded out and sealed off the walkway to make access to the toilet possible. There was no chance of sneaking in unobserved; everyone knew what you were doing. Luckily the flights were only an hour long and the necessity to use this facility was lessened.


With space travel imminent we can only suppose that toilet facilities in space are pretty sophisticated. After all, if we have the technology to travel in space, we must have the technology for a refined toilet. How wrong can we be?


Using the loo in space

According to EESA, the European Space Agency, it’s a complicated but not very pleasant affair. Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut, takes us through the process in a video issued by the space agency.


Samantha explains that you need to take hold of a pipe which extracts the air and turn the switch 90 degrees to get the suction going. Once it is operational you use the yellow funnel at the end of the pipe for your ‘number 1’ as she so delicately explains. Simple so far.


The principal for ‘number 2’ is exactly the same according to Samantha. A solid waste container is topped with a ‘seat’ in white plastic. It looks small and very uncomfortable. She explains that most astronauts lift up both parts – like the cover and the seat of an ordinary loo – which gives you a little more room and is safer to ensure there is no spillage. Also when you are weightless you don’t actually sit down. Awkward.


Once you have completed your ‘business’ you seal the bag inside and push it down into the waste container and insert a fresh bag for the next user. The waste container is changed every ten days.


The water from the ‘number 1’s’ is recycled in a unit below the floor of the loo and turned into potable water. That means fit to drink to you and me. Nice.


Watch the video at

(posted on Samantha’s timeline on 8th May).


Keep me on earth

We don’t know about you, but we weren’t particularly keen to join in any space travel and these facilities haven’t changed our minds. We want to keep our feet firmly on the earth.