Poop in space revisited: Apollo 10's floating turds pop up 44 years later
Bathroom rituals in outer space are a perennial favorite, particularly when they go wrong — as evidenced by the latest wave of hilarity over the runaway poop that prompted rude remarks during the Apollo 10 round-the-moon mission in 1969.
A 500-page-plus transcript of the declassified mission log records tons of routine conversations among the mission's three astronauts: commander Tom Stafford, lunar module pilot Gene Cernan and command module pilot John Young. But six days into the eight-day mission, around page 414, an emergency pops up:
"Give me a napkin, quick," Stafford says. "There's a turd floating through the air."
"I didn't do it," Young says. "It ain't one of mine."
"I don't think it's one of mine," Cernan says.
"Mine was a little more sticky than that," Stafford replies. "Throw that away."
The astronauts discuss the finer points of waste disposal in space, and then move on to other business. But minutes later, it's "Houston, we have a problem" all over again.
"Here's another goddam turd," Cernan says. "What's the matter with you guys?"
The Apollo astronauts had a rudimentary system for disposing of solid waste — basically, by doing their business in a bag, sealing up the bag, kneading it to mix in disinfectant, and then putting the whole thing in a waste receptacle. The process required "a great deal of skill," a post-Apollo NASA review reported. Obviously, some steps must have been missed on occasion.
"In general, the Apollo waste management system worked satisfactorily from an engineering standpoint," according to the biomedical review. "From the point of view of crew acceptance, however, the system must be given poor marks."
The International Space Station provides more commodious commodes, with suction systems that help astronauts deal with zero-G toiletry. There are still usability challenges, however, as space passenger Richard Garriott explained in this 2010 video.
Some reports have suggested that the transcript describing Apollo 10's "Close Encounters of the Turd Kind" was released just recently, but it's actually been declassified for decades. The 44-year-old conversation sparked a new round of giggles over the past week, due to its renewed exposure on The Straight Dope, Laughing Squid, Reddit and elsewhere. You'll find lots more rude talk in the Apollo 10 transcript if you look hard enough — and if you need a little help, Distractions in Space stands ready to lend a hand. So to speak.