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The new space toilet being demonstrated on Earth. Photo: NASA

NASA is sending a new and much-improved toilet up to the International Space Station this week.

Why it matters: The new toilet is designed to be easier to use for female astronauts while in orbit.

How it works: The new $23 million toilet, called the Universal Waste Management System, incorporates feedback from astronauts that should make it more pleasant for everyone to do their business in space.

  • The current toilets on the space station make use of a tube and funnel with a seat, but the toilet’s design makes it hard to use both simultaneously.
  • The team behind the new toilet incorporated the tube so that it can be used with the seat, making it easier for female astronauts to use.
  • The UWMS is also easier to maintain than the current toilets in orbit, meaning astronauts will need to spend less time cleaning than they do currently.

What's next: NASA hopes to eventually use the toilet on missions to deep space destinations like the Moon and Mars.

  • The space agency is planning to test out the toilet on the space station for about three years to get all the kinks worked out before using it on farther afield trips.
  • "When the astronauts have to go, we want to allow them to boldly go," Jim Fuller, who helped develop the new toilet said during a press briefing last week.
  • The toilet is expected to launch to the station Thursday aboard a Cygnus spacecraft from Virginia. Watch it live here.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 5, 2021 - Science

White House lays out new planetary protection guidelines against human contamination

Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The White House laid out a plan last week for updating long-held rules around how to protect the Moon, Mars and other bodies from human contamination.

Why it matters: If a space agency or private company is looking for life on Mars or another deep space object, it's key to be sure any microbes detected are actually native and didn't hitch a ride from Earth.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.