February 16, 2017

NASA crowdsourced a solution to the age-old problem of pooping in space.

The winner's solution is a window into the humiliating side of being human in space:
[Col. Thatcher R.] Cardon’s two-part design hinged on a machine he called the perineal access port. This access port would cover an area of the astronaut called the perineum, the crotch zone below the tailbone and frontward, occasionally described as the “fig leaf area.” The port was two flaps and a tiny valve — essentially, a small airlock to expel waste from the suit without losing precious oxygen supply....

To get from the biological business end through the weenie airlock and into space, Cardon devised a second class of devices he called introducers. One introducer was “a device that rides in the butt-crack, for lack of a better term,” Cardon said. (Medically speaking, he added, that term for the butt groove is the “gluteal cleft.”) The “hygiene wand” was fabric bunched below the perineum that would reveal fresh layers when tugged. But introducers could take any of several forms, such as gender-specific urinary catheters to suck up urine.
I love Cardon's nose for accuracy. After he used the colloquial expression "for lack of a better term," he had to acknowledge that technically there is a better term, but it's a technical term, and he won't expect us losers to keep up with his explanation if he uses what are — to a man like him — the best words.

And I don't think the term "fig leaf area" has — or should have — much currency. I searched for it (in quotes) with Google, and I had to bypass the first 5 hits just to get to very minor writings like these 3:



And I bet that once I publish this post, I will be able to correct the previous sentence to read "I had to bypass the first 6 hits...."

AND: "the weenie airlock"???

22 comments:

David Begley said...

Butt who owns the patent if this device is crowdsourced?

Linda said...

Funny you should mention 'fig leaf area' this morning. I just spent a couple days at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester where there is a huge statue of a naked man dressed only in a fig leaf. The statue is "Man and Freedom" created by a sculptor from Yugoslavia, Ivan Mestrovic.

Lewis Wetzel said...

I always thought that a fig leaf would be too small.
But maybe that is just me.
I wonder if you could fit one of these things to a baby?

Curious George said...

I have no plans for space travel. So I will be able to simply sit down on a toilet and for the lack of a better term, take a shit. Maybe do a little reading. Or visit the Althouse Amazon portal.

Ron said...

Didn't we elect Gluteal Cleft? Several, in fact...

In space no one can hear you whizz...

viator said...

How about the age old problem of pooping when you're not in space?

viator said...

There have been many toilet-related injuries and deaths throughout history.

Redback spiders are found throughout Australia, in many habitats, including urban areas. They often hide in dry, sheltered places such...under toilet seats. Their venom affects the nervous system, effects, the main symptom is severe and persistent pain - which can last hours to days depending on the person's sensitivity to the venom - and may include nausea, malaise and lethargy.

Ron said...

And who hasn't dated a "weenie airlock" or two? "I'm sorry Dave....I can't do that", is a phrase used by not just HAL from 2001!

Michael K said...

The original theory was to use minimal residue meals and what we later came to know as "Vivonex," an amino acid and glucose diet that was later marketed commercially as "Tang." The idea was they wouldn't have to poop at all.

That was OK when space flight was a couple of days but the taste caused it to be rejected and another solution was needed.

Original Mike said...

I don't think pooping in space is an "age-old" problem.

Original Mike said...

The first solution to peeing in sub-orbital flight was the condom.

mockturtle said...

Age-old? Really?

rhhardin said...

It's a perinial problem.

David Smith said...

Back in the Apollo days (I was privileged to play perhaps the smallest part in the Apollo Project at IBM) the clever saying was, "There's only one thing you have to know about crapping in zero-gee: There ain't no graceful way to do it!"

"There ain't no graceful way" has served me well in the rest of my career, and even has proven useful now that I'm retired and don't do anything at all.

harryo said...

I remember my first ride in the altitude chamber. The academic class preceding, advised that there is a "dry gas" and a "wet gas" and a wet gas expands more. Then went on to say, we humans have a wet gas. Oh dear...

Every three years I had to get re-certified, and every three years I had to watch what I ate, because as all that wet gas escapes on the way up to 40,000 feet, I am deathly afraid it won't just be a gas. I decide to bring a spare uniform just in case...

Larry J said...

Pooping in space has been a challenge since the Gemini program. It's more complicated that most people realize. Here's a Popular Science article on the subject for anyone who might be interested.

The Gemini missions were the first missions long enough that astronauts would need to defecate, in spite of low-residue diets designed to minimize bowel movements. The fecal containment system, properly called a defecation device, was a rudimentary solution to this need. It was a cylindrical bag about a foot long with a 1.5-inch opening on the end covered in an adhesive. The bag came with wipe and a material that would kill bacteria and neutralize odors when added to the waste. This was an important part of the system since there was no provision to jettison solid waste. The astronauts had to store their filled defecation devices on board the spacecraft for the duration of the flight. The stowing problem was actually the biggest challenge on Gemini 5.

But there were others. We don’t think about it on Earth, but gravity plays a part in defecation, namely in separating the waste from the one producing said waste. In space, everything is falling at the same rate giving the impression of floating, so waste that would fall away from the buttocks on Earth doesn’t separate from the buttocks in space. To circumvent this problem, NASA added a little extension in the defecation device to help the astronauts with the separation issue. The extra material gave them a clean way to manually flick waste away from their bums.

Adding to the indignity of the act, the physical act of defecating in a bag was difficult. On Gemini flights, the defecating astronaut couldn’t give his companion too much distance from the bowel movement; the spacecraft was about the size of the front seat of a small car. On Apollo missions, the astronaut needing to move his bowels would float his way into one corner while the other two men would move as far away as possible. He’d typically strip completely nude, removing rings and everything. Water was limited on board so washing fecal matter from clothing was impossible. Then he’d stick the adhesive opening to his naked buttocks and use the facilities. The whole exercise from stripping down to redressing could take more than an hour.

And it didn’t always go according to plan. Rogue waste terrorized Apollo 10 on their trip back from the Moon.

LMP Gene Cernan: Where did that come from?

CDR Tom Stafford: Give me a napkin quick. There's a turd floating through the air.

CMP John Young: I didn't do it. It ain't one of mine.

LMP Cernan: I don't think it's one of mine.

CDR Stafford: Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw that away.

CMP Young: God almighty.

All three: (Laughter)

Michael K said...

Thanks for the laugh, Larry J

When I was in medical school, our chief of Physiology was working on the Space Program which was still in infancy. He was studying the effects of weightlessness. One method was to put a group of young men at bed rest for 3 months to simulate long term weightlessness.

So he recruited students to spend the summer at bed rest; no exceptions. The SC basketball team volunteered for what sounded like a pretty soft job. It was until the U had the worst basketball season in its history. Unanticipated consequences.

Aaron Csicseri said...

That's not an alien in your suit, that's just your gluteal cleft intruder.

Rusty said...

My proposal was for a low melting point polyester and collagen sausage casings. Ingesting those prior to dining and you poop out a totally encased shit sausage.

T J Sawyer said...

Whatever happened to "Callipygian cleft?" See Vickie Dugan by the Limelighters.

Roy Lofquist said...

We were flying a track over the Indian Ocean, about a degree north of the equator, waiting to catch the reentry of the first woman cosmonaut. Of course the chatter on the intercom was about the plumbing.

David-2 said...

How can it be that Laslo never showed up at this post? Not political enough?