As illustrated by the recent wave of comedy over the runaway poop that generated nasty remarks during the Apollo 10 round-the-moon mission in 1969, bathroom procedures in deep space are a perennial favourite.
The declassified flight log, which runs to more than 500 pages, contains a wealth of ordinary communications between the mission’s three astronauts: commander Tom Stafford, lunar module pilot Gene Cernan, and command module pilot John Young. However, around page 414, six days into the eight-day quest, an emergency arises:
“Give me a napkin, quick,” Stafford says. “There’s a turd floating through the air.”
“I didn’t do it,” Young says. “It ain’t one of mine.”
“I don’t think it’s one of mine,” Cernan says.
“Mine was a little more sticky than that,” Stafford replies. “Throw that away.”
The astronauts examine the finer mechanics of space garbage disposal before moving on to other matters. But it’s “Houston, we have a problem” all over again a few minutes later.
“Here’s another goddam turd,” Cernan says. “What’s the matter with you guys?”
The Apollo astronauts had a crude procedure for disposing of solid waste, which consisted of putting their trash in a bag, closing it, kneading it to mix in disinfectant, and then tossing it into a waste receptacle. According to a post-Apollo NASA analysis, the process needed “a considerable lot of talent.” Clearly, certain processes must have been skipped at times.
“In general, the Apollo waste management system worked satisfactorily from an engineering standpoint,” according to the biomedical review. “From the point of view of crew acceptance, however, the system must be given poor marks.”
The International Space Station has more spacious toilets, as well as suction equipment to assist astronauts with zero-G toiletry. However, as space traveller Richard Garriott revealed in this 2010 video, there are still usability issues.
According to some reports, the transcript for Apollo 10’s “Close Encounters of the Turd Kind” was only recently revealed, but it has been declassified for decades. If you dig hard enough in the Apollo 10 transcript, you’ll discover plenty more nasty talk.