After six years and $23 million, NASA’s newly designed space toilet, also known as the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS), arrived at the International Space Station on Oct. 5, 2020. The compact unit will be installed by astronauts in the space station, where its performance will be monitored to determine whether a second unit will accompany the Artemis 2 mission to the moon in several years and possibly travel to Mars in the future.
The new toilet is 40 percent lighter, 65 percent smaller and much more energy efficient than the current unit. According to NASA, “The ‘Universal’ in UWMS is key: The central design concept can be easily integrated into different spacecraft and life support systems.”
“We recycle about 90 percent of all water-based liquids on the space station, including urine and sweat. What we try to do aboard the space station is mimic elements of Earth’s natural water cycle to reclaim water from the air,” NASA astronaut Jessica Meir explained. “And when it comes to our urine on ISS, today’s coffee is tomorrow’s coffee!”
Recycling will be key to future Mars missions, as there will be no other water source available on the two-year round-trip missions. According to a NASA press release: “NASA’s goal is to reach 98 percent recycling rates before the first human missions aboard a proposed Mars transport vehicle. The space station is currently the only in-space test location to validate long-term life support and recycling systems.”
Traditionally, space toilets have been designed for and used by male astronauts, but the new toilet is also being hailed for its unisex inclusivity. “The funnel design was completely re-contoured to better accommodate the female anatomy,” said Melissa McKinley, project manager for the new toilet at NASA, during a pre-launch press conference.