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Uncommon Knowledge About NASA & Astronauts

NASA logo

In 1961 when astronaut Alan Shepard was preparing to be the first American launched into space, he realized that NASA had experienced a major oversight. After several launch delays of the Freedom 7 mission caused Shepard to wait in the capsule for hours, he communicated an important message to Mission Control: he had to use the bathroom. Unable to leave the craft to do his business, NASA scientists were hesitant to give Shepard the okay to urinate in his suit, as they were concerned that the urine could cause the body monitoring cables of his suit to short-circuit. Ultimately, he was given the “all clear” and became the first American in space, although he accomplished this goal with a wet suit.

NASA & MAGs or Maximum Absorbency Garments

Aldrin Apollo 11Since this event, NASA has taken steps to accommodate the physiological needs of its astronauts. It has since created Maximum Absorbency Garments, sometimes referred to as space diapers or MAGs. This piece of clothing is worn by astronauts during liftoff, landings, spacewalks, and extra-vehicular activities in which making it to a bathroom simply isn’t possible. Astronauts cannot safely remove their spacesuits when involved in long operations, so the MAG is worn in the event of an emission.

MAGs are similar in structure and function to adult diapers, but they have been modified so that they are pulled on like shorts. They are to be worn under the Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment as part of a space suit. Each astronaut is given three MAGS for space shuttle missions: one for launch, one for re-entry, and a spare.

MAGs have been specially designed to absorb liquid while pulling it away from the skin. Sodium polyacrylate, a powdered chemical absorbent, is incorporated into the fabric. It is thought that this chemical can absorb about one thousand times its weight in liquid, making it a great addition to MAGs, as astronauts typically need to wear these garments for extended periods of time.

History of Diapers in Space

Space Shuttle Columbia launching

The current MAG prototype isn’t the only variety that NASA has used with its astronauts. Throughout the era of the Apollo missions, astronauts wore urine and fecal containment systems beneath spandex trunks. The urine collection device involved a condom-like sheath that was attached to a tube connected to a pouch. When women became astronauts in the late 1970s, NASA attempted to create feminized versions of these devices, but they were largely unsuccessful.

Next, NASA created Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk (DACT) which could be used for both female and male astronauts. These pads were first used during the 1983 Challenger mission, and they specifically addressed the needs of women since they were leak-resistant, manageable, and comfortable.

In 1988, the current Maximum Absorbency Garment was created, first for females, and later for males. In the 1990s, a supply of 3,200 of the diapers was ordered. As of 2007, about 1,000 of these products remained.

Astronaut Space Suits

  • What is a Spacesuit? This NASA resource explains the different parts of a spacesuit and why astronauts need to wear them. These suits are essential for providing astronauts with a safe environment while in space.
  • Designing Astronaut Gloves: One of the most important parts of an astronaut suit is the gloves, and finding the best design is essential to keep astronauts safe while in space.
  • Moon Boots: This National Geographic article explores the ILC Dover prototype space boot, which is valued at over $30,000 per pair.
  • Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit: This resource discusses the creation of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, which is considered an individual spacecraft. A review of other famous space suits is also conducted in this article.
  • History of the Space Suit: This resource from NASA examines the history of the space suit. While current suits are used by astronauts on the International Space Station, a variety of other suits have been used in the past.

Bathrooms in Space

  • How Do Astronauts Go to the Bathroom in Space?: This article from the Smithsonian Institute examines the space toilet and how astronauts use the bathroom in space.
  • The History of Urinating in Space: This article from ABC News focuses on NASA archives for information about astronauts relieving themselves. Information is also included about external urine collection devices used by U-2 spy planes.
  • The Science of Space Urination: This page from Real Clear Science examines astronaut Alan Shepard’s experience of toileting in space, which was ultimately a history physiological oversight on the part of NASA.
  • The Astronaut Diaper: This PDF file from Chabot Space and Science thoroughly examines the Maximum Absorbency Garments worn by astronauts. These adult diapers are designed to be worn under the Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment.
  • Space Toilets: Scientific American examines the space technology involved with toileting in space, including past and present urine disposal systems.

Incontinence Information

  • Types of Urinary Incontinence: This article explores the various types of urinary incontinence, which is the accidental leakage of urine. Common varieties include stress incontinence, overflow incontinence, and urge incontinence.
  • Seniors and Incontinence: This news briefing reports that over half of senior citizens are plagued by incontinence. Information from the CDC and statistics about incontinence are also discussed.
  • Urge Incontinence: This article focuses on urge incontinence, sometimes called an “overactive bladder.” The causes of urge incontinence, risk factors, symptoms, and treatment options are all addressed.
  • Fecal Incontinence; This resource from Mayo Clinic focuses on fecal incontinence, or the inability to control movement of the bowels. Symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options are addressed.
  • Common Causes of Incontinence: This page from the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders examines some of the most common causes of incontinence, including childbirth, neurological disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Incontinence Self-Care Resources

  • Urinary Incontinence Products for Self-Care: This article explains how to choose the right urinary incontinence product and discusses the different options available for men and women. This page also discusses where to purchase products and when to contact a doctor.
  • Stopping Leaks: This article discusses helpful tips for stopping leaks, as for many people, some simple lifestyle changes may be enough to relieve the symptoms of urinary incontinence.
  • Natural Remedies for Incontinence: While medications and surgeries may help incontinence, less-invasive options may also be available. Lifestyle changes, exercises, and supplements may help, and this resource examines some of the best natural remedies that may be able to help with urinary incontinence.
  • Making Incontinence Worse: Both men and women can experience urinary incontinence, and certain factors can make it worse. By identifying the issues found in this article, people who experience incontinence can better manage their symptoms.
  • Pelvic Floor Exercises: This article was released by the Continence Foundation of Australia, and it identifies pelvic floor muscle exercises that can improve problems with urinary incontinence.