Forgotten Hardware: How to Urinate in a Spacesuit

hollinsPretty much everyone asks, at one time or another, “How do astronauts pee?” Hunter Hollins [pictured here] exerted considerable scholarship to provide a good answer, which you can read in Hollins’s study:

Forgotten Hardware: How to Urinate in a Spacesuit,” Hunter Hollins, Advances in Physiology Education, vol. 37, 2013, pp. 123-128. The author, at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, reports:

“On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to fly in space. Although the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had discounted the need for him to urinate, Shepard did, in his spacesuit, short circuiting his electronic biosensors. With the development of the pressure suit needed for high-altitude and space flight during the 1950s, technicians had developed the means for urine collection. However, cultural mores, combined with a lack of interagency communication, and the technical difficulties of spaceflight made human waste collection a difficult task. Despite the difficulties, technicians at NASA created a successful urine collection device that John Glenn wore on the first Mercury orbital flight on February 20, 1962….


“Although Glenn did not understand the physics and physiology of urination in space, he was wearing the first in a long series of NASA UCDs [urine collection devices]. As B.F. Goodrich had not been able to produce a successful UCD, McBarron and his team, consisting of Al Rochford and Joe Schmitt of the Manned Spaceflight Center Suit Laboratory, developed the first successful UCD used by the Mercury astronauts. The suit laboratory was responsible for ensuring that the astronauts were properly equipped (see Fig. 3). McBarron modified condoms to create an external catheter, which he referred to as a “roll-on-cuff” (see Fig. 4).”


Here’s a photo of John Glenn in his space suit:


Here he is, in later life, in an airplane: