Everything you wanted to know about space poop

Let’s face it, when microbiologists get together over beers 9/10 times the conversation ends up about poop.   Or maybe that’s just among the ones I know?  Feces provides the critical window into the important world of the gut microbiome,  a large percentage of the biomass in feces is microbial and who doesn’t love fecal transplants?

So having established that feces is awesome, it’s also worth mentioning that space is awesome.  Rockets, icy planets, the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, the list goes one.    Ergo, feces in space is a topic worthy of more discussion (it’s a very popular question for schoolkids to ask astronauts on the space station).

I recently came across this fascinating article “How to poop like an astronaut: To get to Mars we need better space toilets“.  Really interesting if either of the main topics is of interest.   Among the many things that I didn’t know or never though of were the following highlights:

-If you vent fecal matter into space on the way to Mars it will just follow you there until you stop and then it will all crash into you

-The bone mass lost by astronauts ends up as calcium-rich urine which can cause “kidney stones” in toilets

-NASA has worked on recycling feces as a radiation shielding for the spacecraft or even to be made into bricks to create a building on the surface of a planet

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David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter