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Space Condoms

Astronauts too can have issues with toxic masculinity

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Astronauts are hand-picked among tens of thousands of other candidates to travel into space. So you might think that once they went through all of this, they don’t have anything left to prove to anyone… And yet…

Doing your business in space isn’t easy. First of all, there isn’t a lot of space in a spaceship. And on top of that, in micro-gravity, there isn’t a force pulling everything down. In fact, there isn’t a downward direction when you’re in micro-gravity : there is no direction in which things tend to fall. If you drop something when you’re in micro-gravity, it will just stay where you left it.

In fact, astronauts today still have to practice pooping before going into the International Space Station (ISS): they even have space-pooping lessons! And that’s for the ISS, where the waste-management systems are top-notch. In the early days of space exploration, it wasn’t so easy.

During the Apollo missions, astronauts had to pee in a kind of condom attached to a tube connected to the vaccum of outer-space. That way, their urine was directly evacuated from the spaceship. As for the condom, NASA let the astronauts pick between three different sizes: small, medium and large.

An important thing to note is that if the pee apparatus is poorly adjusted, you can end up with pee floating around inside the spaceship. Which is gross – of course – and on top of that, if any urine ends up behind an electrical pannel, il can short a circuit. Which can be a serious hazard.

And NASA has a problem: astronauts have a tendency to pick condoms that are too big, so they can’t adjust them properly, threatening the smooth running of the mission.

But NASA engineers are clever. In order to mislead the astronauts, they changed the names of the condom sizes. Instead of calling them small, medium and large, they started calling them extra-large, gigantic and humongous. And by changing the labels, they made it possible for astronauts to select the right size. Astronauts could accept being « only » extra-large.

This episode from the Apollo era comes from the documentary Moon Machines.

You can listen to this story in French here.

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PhD, astrophysicist. I play with keyboards and telescopes whenever I can.