Living in Space – Eating, Drinking and Answering Nature’s Call
A lot of people aspire to be astronauts because they are truly the national heroes. Yet, there are many who think that astronauts are overrated people who are overpaid for just roaming around in space. Roaming or floating around in space might sound like a fun thing to do, but having fun is not that easy when you are in a microgravity environment. Even the easiest thing on earth can be the toughest thing in space. Imagine in an environment where the smallest drop of sweat can be seen floating in front of your eyes. Would it be that simple to just go to the bathroom and do the same actions you would on earth? That is why the toilets in spacecrafts are different than we have here on earth. While we can decorate and enhance our bathroom with any thing from small bathroom storage to medicine cabinet without mirror, those in space cannot even have a simple toilet seat or a urinal.
Likewise, anything that requires gravity is pretty difficult and different in space. People are always curious to know about how their outer space heroes manage to perform their simple everyday tasks like eating, drinking and then, well, emptying it all out.
The first thing to understand is that space is not a zero gravity environment. In fact, there is gravity in space, but it is extremely less than there is on earth. That is why we call it microgravity. As far as eating is concerned, gravity has little to help us in digestion. It is actually the muscles of our esophagus that push food down to the stomach. The only thing that gravity might help in is in speeding the whole process up. This means, without gravity, food takes longer to process, and therefore, the body absorbs more fat and calories.
Same is the case with drinking. Therefore, astronauts can now take regular meal and water in space. The only difference is of packaging and utensils that are specially designed to keep food inside even after opening. Also, they usually get to eat wet sticky food such as oatmeal or pudding, so that it can better stay stuck to the spoon and bowl. Besides, crumbs of dry food can contaminate the surroundings.
Taking care of personal hygiene is the most difficult task in micro gravity. But, since space missions require more than one man, they have to take care of it anyway. For bathing, astronauts use a wet sponge instead of a shower and use specially made shampoos and soaps do not require to be rinsed off.
Toilets have improved greatly with time. Previously, they only had a 14 day storage capacity. Now it is unlimited. The astronauts have to strap themselves to the toilet seat which makes use of air flow instead of water. It works like a vacuum pipe and moves the solid waste into a bag. The newer model changes the bag after each use and the used bag is pushed into a waste cylinder. Luckily, this makes the newer toilets odor free as well.