CLOSE
Original image
NASA

NASA's 46-Year-Old Floating Poop Mystery

Original image
NASA

The astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 10 mission in May 1969 paved the way for a pivotal moment in human history, but in the process, introduced an entirely new kind of space exploration mystery. 

Apollo 10 served as a test run for the 1969 moon landing two months later. NASA went through all the same motions and procedures as the landing would require, but came just short of actually touching down on the lunar surface. The three astronauts on board helped NASA understand the issues that might arise during the real lunar landing. Such as: What happens when a turd floats through the spacecraft? 

It was day six of the mission. Commander Tom Stafford noticed it first. “Oh—who did it?” he asked, laughing. “Who did it?”

“Give me a napkin quick,” he told the others. “There’s a turd floating through the air.”

Screenshot via NASA

Talk quickly turned to whose poop it could be, resulting in a pretty hilarious chorus of “not me!”

“I didn’t do it. It ain’t one of mine,” said command module pilot John Young. Lunar module pilot Eugene Cernan claimed, “I don’t think it’s one of mine,” while Stafford was more specific in his denials. “Mine was a little more sticky than that,” he told the others.

Figuring out how astronauts could answer nature’s call was a major challenge NASA had to face if it wanted to keep astronauts in space for more than a few hours. Unfortunately for space travelers trapped in close quarters, the human body experiences “decreased gastrointestinal transit time” in weightless conditions—meaning astronauts go more in space. These days, astronauts on the International Space Station have a vacuum-powered toilet equipped with a seat belt. In the early days of space travel, there were no such luxuries. 

In 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard—the first American to travel into space—spent five hours waiting for his 15-minute long Freedom 7 flight. He ended up having to pee in his space suit—something NASA had not prepared for. Later, they added waste collection devices [PDF], but they weren’t foolproof. In 1963, several systems within astronaut Gordon Cooper’s Project Mercury capsule failed due to a leaky urine bag. (To reduce the need to pass solid waste during the Mercury missions, astronauts were fed a special low-fiber diet for the three days before launch.)

An early fecal collection device for astronauts. Image Credit: NASA

But of course, everybody needs to poop eventually. During the longer Apollo missions, astronauts essentially had to use an adhesive plastic bag they could attach to their butt. A germicidal tablet inside killed bacteria to prevent gasses from building up inside the bag.

“In all cases, the primary problem has been the separation, in a weightless environment, of the fecal wastes from the crewmen,” NASA wrote in an analysis of the Apollo fecal collection system in 1972 [PDF]. With no gravity, it’s hard to get your poop away from your body, and it came with a “finger cot” (like a condom for the finger) to help move the poop into the bag. The bag was not popular with astronauts: “Nothing has proved more effective than the current system, which has proved adequate for all flights, although the crewmen have expressed dislike for it.”

As to who unleashed the Apollo 10’s mysterious turd, none of the astronauts on board copped to it. “Well, babe, if it was me, I sure would know I was s****ing on the floor,” Cernan said. The other astronauts continued to claim their own bowel movements were too sticky to be the offender, as evidenced by their experiences with the beloved finger cot. Who really unleashed the Apollo 10 poop rocket, we may never know.

Once NASA astronauts did touch down on the moon, of course, they elected to leave their bags of feces there. Go ahead and search “turd” in the Apollo 10 transcripts to find more astronaut poop jokes.

[h/t: Vox]

Original image
iStock
arrow
gross
London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
Original image
iStock

UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

Original image
iStock
arrow
gross
Thinking of Disinfecting Your Sponge? It’ll Do More Harm Than Good
Original image
iStock

Common house-cleaning wisdom advises you to clean your sponges periodically. Some experts advise running them through the dishwasher, while others suggest microwaving a wet sponge. But a new study says that both of those techniques will do more harm than good, as The New York Times reports.

A trio of microbiologists came to this conclusion after collecting used sponges from households in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany, a city near Zurich. As the researchers write in Nature Scientific Reports, they asked the 14 houses that gave them sponges to describe how they were used—how many people in the house handled them, how often they used them, how often they replaced them, and if they ever tried to clean them.

Analyzing DNA and RNA found on those sponges, they found a total of 362 different bacterial species living on them. The sheer number of the bacterial colonies was staggering—some 82 billion total bacteria were living in a cubic inch of sponge. (As co-author Markus Egert told the Times, that’s similar to what you’d find in your poop.)

As the researchers discovered by analyzing the bacteria found on sponges whose users said they regularly cleaned them, disinfecting a sponge using a microwave, vinegar, or a dishwasher is worse than useless. It seems that when you attempt to clean a sponge, you kill off some bacteria, but in doing so, you provide an environment for the worst species of bacteria to thrive. Sponges that were regularly cleaned had higher concentrations of bacteria like Moraxella osloensis, which can cause infections in humans. (Though it’s unclear how likely you are to get infected by your sponge.) It’s also the reason dirty laundry smells. By microwaving your sponge, you’re probably just making it smellier.

Sadly, there’s not much you can do about your dirty sponge except throw it away. You can recycle it to use as part of your cleaning routine in the bathroom or somewhere else where it’s far away from your food, but the best way to get a clean sponge, it seems, is to just buy a new one. May we suggest the Scrub Daddy?

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios