This Space Toilet is Clearly the Best Artifact at Chabot Science Center

You can see a lot of amazing things at the Chatbot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California–a massive planetarium, a real moon rock, century-old telescopes, and more.

But one artifact at Chabot clearly stands above them all: the space toilet.

Chabot’s space toilet comes from a retired Soviet spacecraft. It’s tucked away on the second floor of the museum, in a gallery devoted to modern space flight and exploration. But it’s a thing of engineering beauty, and definitely worth seeking out.

Chabot’s Astronaut Toilet

If you’re expecting a space toilet to look futuristic and wildly complex then, well, you’re right! Chabot proudly displays their astronaut toilet in a long, glass case that makes all its inner workings visible.

Yes, there’s a small part at the end that resembles an earth-bound toilet seat.

Astronaut toilet
Space toilet at Chatbot Space and Science Center. Author’s photo.

But beyond that, the space toilet includes multiple pressure tanks, compartments, tubes, valves, and other complex features. 

How the Space Toilet Works

Astronaut toilets work much like the toilets in airplanes. They use suction to remove the, ahem, “contributions to science” of the astronauts who use them. 

Unlike an airplane toilet, though, space toilets need much stronger suction, as well as complex methods for containing waste so that it can be disposed of safely.

Astronaut toilet
Space Toilet at Chabot. Author’s photo.

In modern space toilets, some of that waste is retained for testing back on Earth. But often, it’s stored in containers that are loaded into an expendable space capsule, which NASA says “burns up on re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.”

That’s right–that shooting star you saw might not have come from another galaxy. Instead, it might be the “leavings” of a NASA crew, burning brightly on their way back towards earth.

Why a Space Toilet?

Why would Chatbot Space and Science Center exhibit such an object? It’s not as silly or frivolous as you might think.

Astronaut toilet
The full space toilet. Author’s photo.

Navy Seal and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy reports that “How do you go to the bathroom in space?” is the most-asked question astronauts receive.

Kids (and many adults) are clearly curious about this aspect of space travel. Why not bring them to Chabot Space and Science Center so you can explore the question firsthand?

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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