The International Space Station is getting a new toilet this year. NASA's Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) is an upgrade from the current space lavatory technology that will help facilitate mixed-gender crews and will be easier to use.
The toilet currently on the US side of the space station was designed in the 1990s. This means the outdated toilet has a few problems including being "sensitive to crew alignment on the seat and can result in inadvertent fouling of the collection hardware with fecal material," according to a detailed review from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The older toilet has also been criticized for having unsuccessful "capture and ease of use for simultaneous urination and defecation for mixed gender crews."
The new toilet will address these issues by redesigning the shape and volume of the seat. The new toilet system also has a lower mass than prior systems, is simpler to use, provides increased crew comfort and performance, and treats urine so it can be safety processed by the spacecraft recycling systems," according to a NASA report on Monday.
The new toilet will also adapt a special feature that is already used on aof the space station. It will help astronauts to better anchor themselves in microgravity by hooking their feet under toe bars, instead of the thigh bars on the US toilet.
While this new toilet sounds out of this world, NASA still needs to tackle its bigger goals of designing a waste system that has larger storage options for longer missions to places like Mars.
One of those goals is to design a waster system that can "stabilize and dry the metabolic waste to make it microbially inactive and possibly reuse that water," according to NASA Environmental Control and Life Support Technology deputy program manager Jim Broyan.
This new Universal Waste Management System will remain on ISS until the end of the space station's lifetime. The delivery of the new toilet to the space station is targeted for the fall.