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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.

Obama says Powell exemplified what America "can and should be"

Then-President Obama speaks alongside former Secretary of State Colin Powell (left) during a meeting in the Oval Office in 2010. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Obama called Colin Powell an "exemplary soldier and an exemplary patriot" in a statement honoring the former general following his death from COVID complications on Monday.

Why it matters: Powell, the first Black U.S. secretary of state, was known as a Republican but played a critical role in helping Obama get elected in 2008.

Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas abortion ban

Abortion rights activists rally at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11 in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block Texas' near-total ban on abortions while federal courts consider its constitutionality.

The big picture: The court last month allowed the ban to take effect, rejecting an emergency application by abortion-rights groups. The law bars the procedure after cardiac activity is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.