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.

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Miriam Kramer, author of Space
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