Astronauts Install NASA's New $23 Million Space Toilet on the ISS

Astronauts have been working on assembling a new toilet aboard the International Space Station (ISS) that should be more comfortable for astronauts to use.

The toilet, which arrived on the ISS back in September last year as part of a resupply mission, includes a number of changes from the old version, making it smaller, lighter, and better suited for female astronauts.

The toilet is called the Universal Waste Management System (UWMS). As well as improving the toiletry comfort of ISS inhabitants, the toilet is due to be built into NASA's upcoming Orion capsule, which will ferry astronauts around the moon on the Artemis II flight test in 2023.

The UWMS, widely reported to cost around $23 million, was mentioned in an ISS video update posted to Twitter at the end of May.

This week astronauts worked to assemble new critical station hardware. Two cosmonauts will exit the station for an upcoming spacewalk to prepare the station for a new science module. #SpaceToGround

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) May 28, 2021

Speaking to news outlet UPI, Melissa McKinley, NASA's project lead for the UWMS system, said the space toilet is the first one developed by the U.S. since the space shuttle program and that parts of it had been designed to "better suit the female anatomy."

A NASA astronaut has previously spoken to Newsweek about what it's like to spend many months weightless onboard the ISS.

The idea behind the toilet is that it can be incorporated into different spacecraft. It is 65 percent smaller and 40 percent lighter than the ISS's current toilet. It can also recycle more urine.

Equipment aboard the ISS recycles about 90 percent of all water-based liquids on the station, including urine and sweat. As NASA astronaut Jessica Meir once said in a statement: "Today's coffee is tomorrow's coffee!"

This technology is crucial because it reduces the amount of additional water that needs to be sent to the ISS from Earth, saving weight, space, and money.

NASA has said it is aiming to recycle 98 percent of water before it launches manned Mars missions, and the ISS is the only place where new recycling technologies, such as the UWMS, can be tested.

The UWMS also comes with changes to its restraint technology to keep astronauts firmly attached to it. Astronauts had consistently said that the traditional toilet restraints—thigh straps—were annoying to use.

Instead, the UWMS comes with handholds and foot restraints. NASA said in a statement in September: "Everyone positions themselves differently while 'going,' and consistent astronaut feedback indicated that the traditional thigh straps were a hassle."

Other improvements include corrosion-resistant components that require less maintenance, and airflow that starts automatically when the lid is lifted.

Toilets in space use airflow to direct urine and feces away from astronauts and into the toilet.

In an Ask Me Anything Q&A about the new toilet on Reddit last year, McKinley said the old toilet on the ISS would remain operational so that there are now two.

She added: "Because the crew size is getting larger, no one wants to stand in line for the bathroom so two toilets will be appreciated by the crew!"

The International Space Station seen in this photo taken from the space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011. Toilets aboard the station use airflow to work. NASA / Getty