The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has teamed up with engineers from the private sector to develop a next-generation space toilet, which they hope to complete within the next five years.
Clean and easy to use, the envisioned space toilet is designed to be worn like a diaper around the astronaut's waist at all times. Sensors detect when the user relieves him or herself, automatically activating a rear-mounted suction unit that draws the waste away from the body through tubes into a separate container. In addition to washing and drying the wearer after each use, the next-generation space toilet will incorporate features that eliminate unwanted sound and odor.
Established last month, JAXA's space toilet research group includes engineers from the private sector. Participants reportedly come from an assortment of toilet and chemical manufacturers, as well as from the architectural and engineering firm Shimizu Corporation. Plans are to test working prototypes of the space toilet in Japan's Kibo lab aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The developers indicate their next-generation space toilet may also prove useful in earthbound settings -- particularly in hospitals with bedridden patients.
The current ISS toilet is a Russian-built, western-style commode that sucks waste away like a vacuum cleaner. Use of that toilet requires practice before heading to space, particularly because an improperly seated user has the potential to create a messy situation.
Chiaki Mukai, head of JAXA's Space Biomedical Research Office, is looking forward to the development of the new toilet. "Long-term stays in space place significant stress on the mind and body," Mukai says. "The toilet plays a crucial role in maintaining good health in space."