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NASA's 46-Year-Old Floating Poop Mystery

NASA
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]

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Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping? It Depends on What You Eat
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If you’re obsessed with either your scale or your bowel movements, you’ve probably wondered: How much of my weight is just poop? A teenage cousin of mine once spent an entire restaurant dinner arguing that he could lose up to 3 pounds if you just gave him a few minutes to sit on the toilet. As you might imagine, he was wrong. But not by that much, according to Thrillist, a site that’s been truly dominating the poop science beat lately.

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.) But how much your feces weigh depends heavily on your diet. The more fiber you eat, the heavier your poop. Unfortunately, even the most impressive fecal achievement won't tip the scales much.

In 1992, researchers studying the effect of fiber intake on colon cancer risk wrote that the daily movements of poopers across the world could vary anywhere from 2.5 ounces to 1 pound. In their sample of 220 Brits, the median daily poop weighed around 3.7 ounces. A dietary intake of around 18 grams of dietary fiber a day typically resulted in a 5.3-ounce turd, which the researchers say is enough to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

A Western diet probably isn’t going to help you achieve your poop potential, mass-wise. According to one estimate, industrialized populations only eat about 15 grams of fiber per day thanks to processed foods. (Aside from ruining your bragging rights for biggest poop, this also wreaks havoc on your microbiome.) That's why those British poops observed in the study didn't even come close to 1 pound.

Poop isn’t the only thing passing through your digestive tract that has some volume to it. Surprisingly, your fabulous flatulence can be quantified, too, and it doesn’t even take a crazy-sensitive machine to do so. In a 1991 study, volunteers plied with baked beans were hooked up to plastic fart-capturing bags using rectal catheters. The researchers found that the average person farts around 24 ounces of gas a day. The average fart involved around 3 ounces of gas.

This doesn’t mean that either pooping or farting is a solid weight-loss strategy. If you’re hoping to slim down, losing a pound of poop won’t improve the way your jeans fit. Certainly your 24 ounces of gas won't. But to satisfy pure scientific curiosity, sure, break out that scale before and after you do your business. At least you'll be able to see if your fiber intake is up to snuff.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Why You Get Diarrhea When You're Hungover
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If your hangover mornings involve a lot of time sitting on the toilet, you're not alone. In addition to making you puke your guts out, drinking too much can also give you massive diarrhea the next day. Why? Thrillist talked to a gastroenterologist about the hangover poops, and found that it's a pretty common phenomenon, one caused by a combination of unusually fast-moving digestion.

When you drink, Urvish Shah told the site, alcohol increases what's called gut motility, the contractions that move food along your gastrointestinal tract. Combine this with the fact that booze inhibits vasopressin—the hormone that regulates water retention and prevents your kidneys from immediately dumping whatever liquid you drink into your bladder—and suddenly your guts have become a full-blown water slide.

All those cocktails take a fast-paced thrill ride down to your colon, where your gut bacteria throw a feast. The result is a bunch of gas and diarrhea you don't usually get when food and water are passing through your system a little more slowly. And because it's all rushing through you so fast, the colon isn't absorbing as much liquid as usual, giving you even more watery poops. If you haven't eaten, the extra acidity in your stomach from the booze can also irritate your stomach lining, causing—you guessed it—more diarrhea.

The more concentrated form of alcohol you drink, the worse it's going to be. If you really want to stay out of the bathroom the morning after that party, go ahead and take it easy on the shots. Because beer is so high in carbohydrates, though, Thrillist warns that that will cause gas and poop problems too as the bacteria in your gut start going to town on the undigested carbs that make it to your colon.

All in all, the only way to avoid a post-alcohol poop is to just stop drinking quite as much. Sorry, folks. If you want to rule Saturday night, you'll have to deal with the Sunday morning runs.

[h/t Thrillist]

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