Who Takes Out The Trash On The Space Station?

ISSI mean, seriously, who does it?  Because people are people, even if they are astronauts, and basic human nature has to intervene at some point.

If the ISS operates anything like things do around my house, then there are a bunch of highly trained, hard working, space technicians performing a complex experiment that is as old as time itself:  to see how high the dome of garbage can extend past the rim of the trash receptacle underneath the zero gravity sink before somebody finally caves in and empties the damned thing.

And I’m sure the trash isn’t the only thing that human nature leaves undone while orbiting the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour.

The ISS has two toilets, located in the Zvezda and Tranquility modules, down the hall and to the left, just in case any of you find your way into low earth orbit.  How many astronauts, from how many countries have found momentary solitude and an escape from the myriad of demands of operating a scientific laboratory hurtling through space only to discover that no one has replaced the waste storage bag?  I guess all of them at some point.

Not only that, the zero gravity Waste Collection System (WCS) uses a fan-driven suction system that requires the male astronauts to perform accurately from a distance of a few inches.  If there is one thing that any trip to any bathroom anywhere in the world has shown me, is that my fellow men have no aim whatsoever, nor do they aspire to develop that skill set.  I don’t think the rules change once they get into space.

And yes, the biggest argument that exists between a man and a woman in our lifetime also exists in space.  The damned toilet seat being left up.  Only on the ISS, it comes in the form of the suction “funnel” with different fittings that have to be swapped out for a man or a woman.  I think you can see the chain of events quite clearly, even from here.

Our intrepid space explorers, who are often in orbit for months at a time, also have laundry issues, just as their gravity hampered counterparts do.  But in space there is no washing machine, so a strange childlike approach to laundry has developed:  they don’t change their underwear very often. A kid’s dream and a parent’s nightmare.

So the laundry piles up.  Just like at home.  They take turns cramming it into the ZGDCLHSU (Zero Gravity Dirty Clothes Laundry Hamper Storage Unit) and try to close the door by getting a flying start from across the cabin and slamming a shoulder into it to secure the latch, before the clothing bursts from its confines like a weightless overstuffed closet gag, filling each module with soiled garments and the stench of an adolescent locker room.

The ISS occupants do have one great advantage over us landlubbers.  When it comes time to go home, they load all their dirty laundry, and their trash, into one of the unmanned cargo ships that ferries supplies to the Space Station.  That vessel is then jettisoned and it, and the laundry, burns up over the Pacific Ocean.  How great is that?  I was thinking of trying that system out here at home, but apparently we have pesky local ordinances against burning trash and old underwear.

So remember, next time you look up in the sky and imagine what it is like onboard one of mankind’s most incredible technical and scientific achievements, gliding silently and swiftly across the night sky, just know that someone up there probably has bad aim, left the seat up, and refuses to take out the trash.

Just like at home.

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8 thoughts on “Who Takes Out The Trash On The Space Station?”

  1. Okay so the flakes falling from the sky over our Pacific cruise ship was dirty underwear??

    1. I just don’t want any of you to be disappointed when you finally make it into space.

      And I feel obligated to say, just one more time, “suction funnel apparatus.”

  2. I thought the movie “Gravity” was incredibly romantic, but you have now destroyed my illusions.

    1. Those damned movies always leave out the gritty realistic part of love. Like whose turn is it to clean the suction funnel apparatus.

      But don’t worry. Everyone does look like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

      I’m sorry. I just grossed myself out…

  3. Two toilets? I bet there’s a lot of ‘Who left the toilet seat up” discussions up there!

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