Zero-Gee toilets


I’ve found myself writing a mildly comic sequence that revolves around the use of ‘Sanitary facilities’ aboard a Starship. By necessity, these would have to be adapted for zero gravity, and unisex. Simplicity of use and an ability to cope with varying degrees of gastric distress would be essential.

I’ve looked at the old MIR design, this rather complicated sounding solution, and this picture of the ISS space station toilet.

My own imagineered solution is a soft neoprene ‘one size fits all’ seat to make a partial seal around the relevant areas of the male or female anatomy, and connects to a pressure actuated vacuum tube to suck away the unwanted fluids or solids. There would need to be one orifice for each, obviously, but the basic shape of the whole thing would be reminiscent of a ‘Slipper’ bedpan curved slightly upward at the front and rear, with a soft barrier at the perineum. This would necessitate it being sat ‘in’ like a saddle as opposed to ‘on’ as with terrestrial toilets. A soft plastic ‘gasket’ would help create a better seal for keeping the smell under control as well. No sense in having unfortunate and inappropriate smells all over a Starship. After all, it’s a closed environment.

The inspiration for this solution comes from, of all places, 18th – 19th century Paris. There was a famous clergyman (Louis Bordalou) whose sermons allegedly went on for too long for some ladies of the congregation, and they had made small, relatively narrow slipper bedpans which could be discreetly slid into place and used; presumably so the court ladies would not commit heresy by slipping out to the loo during the service. I recall seeing one on the BBC’s old ‘Antiques Roadshow many years ago, and being at an impressionable age, the information somehow stuck in the back of my brain. Bordaloue, or Coach pot, as they are known in English.

This has me thinking about sanitation and hygiene aboard Starships, which is an issue that should at least get some literary lip service. I covered washing with the Steam tube, a shower like almost sealed chamber where high pressure air blasts water vapour at the showeree, simultaneously vacuuming out the soap and washing water. There is even a scene in ‘The Sky full of Stars’ where one of my lead characters catches two passengers using his personal facilities for sex, and takes out his own petty vengeance upon them for sullying his facilities.

There are all sorts of silly gags one can make (In space, no one can hear you **** for example), but on a Starship, personal hygiene is a very serious issue.

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Martyn K Jones

A writer who first trained as an Electrical Engineer, then fulfilled various roles within the computing industry. First published in 'SuperBike' magazine, 1978 under the pseudonym Harry Matthews. Since then has written and had published a wide variety of work; from PR copy in trade magazines to supernatural short stories and the occasional satirical article. Emigrated to Canada in 2007. Became a Canadian Citizen December 2014. Now branching out as a serious science fiction novelist.

Categories General musings