Aviation History

The sheer stink of an Apollo cabin after two weeks was awe-inspiring: how Apollo Astronauts dumped on their way to the Moon and how they tried to stay clean without shower

Apollo Astronauts had to make adjustments in various daily activities, including the way they ate, drank, dressed, and even went to bathroom.

Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on Jul. 16, 1969, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin into an initial Earth-orbit of 114 by 116 miles.

The primary objective of Apollo 11 was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961: perform a crewed lunar landing and return to Earth.

An estimated 650 million people watched Armstrong’s televised image and heard his voice describe the event as he took “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” on Jul. 20, 1969.

Apollo astronauts’ life was not easy aboard the command and service module, or CSM. Cramped spaces and weightlessness made living in space very different from living on Earth. According to the Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum’s website, consequently, astronauts had to make adjustments in various daily activities, including the way they ate, drank, dressed, and even went to bathroom.

Andy Burns, Student of Space History and Flight Officer / Aviator at United States Navy (USN), explains on Quora.

‘There were no showering/bathing facilities aboard any of the Apollo spacecraft. What washing the astronauts were able to do was via wet washcloths every now and then. The environmental control system circulated air and helped somewhat, but mostly it was just a matter of the whole crew stinking equally and eventually going nose-deaf.’

Fecal bag

How did Apollo Astronauts poop during their journey to the Moon?

Carefully. Very, very, carefully.

They stripped down completely – there was no way to shower or wash clothes – and got as far from their crewmates as possible. (Nowhere near far enough, I’m sure.) Then they stuck a bag which had a ring with glue on it on their butt and did the necessary. Assuming it was firm, they had to then insert their finger into a covered hole to break it off. (No gravity to make it fall.)

To add insult to injury, they then had to put a certain fluid that killed the bacteria in with the poop, seal the bag, and knead the contents to fully mix that substance into the poop.

Julie Ritt, an expert in NASA history, explains on Quora;

‘That’s assuming that they managed to get the bag attached to their bootie before anything exited the premises.’

As reported by Popular Science, Apollo 10 (crewed by John Young, Thomas Stafford and Gene Cernan) had issues with random feces floating in the cabin, the ownership of which no one would admit.

“Oh — Who did it?” Tom Stafford asks at one point. Confused, Young and Cernan reply, “Who did what?”
Cernan: “Where did that come from?”
Stafford: “Get me a napkin quick. There’s a turd floating through the air.”
Young: “I didn’t do it. It ain’t one of mine.”
Cernan: “I don’t think it’s one of mine.”
Stafford: “Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw that away.”
Young: “God Almighty”

Apollo 10 crew

According to HuffPost, later on, they were interrupted again:

Cernan: “Here’s another goddam turd. What’s the matter with you guys? Here, give me a —“
(laughter from Young and Stafford)
Stafford: “It was just floating around?”
Cernan: “Yes.”
Stafford (laughing): “Mine was stickier than that.”
Young: “Mine was too. It hit that bag —“
Cernan: “I don’t know whose that is. I can neither claim it nor disclaim it (laughter).”
Young: “What the hell is going on here?”

Burns goes on to explain;

‘According to the reports of the Navy rescue swimmers who were responsible for opening the spacecraft hatch after splashdown, the sheer stink of an Apollo cabin after two weeks was awe-inspiring.’

To reassure any future astronauts who may be rethinking their career choice, the facilities have improved significantly. Now they have a proper toilet. It even has a camera, so you can perfect your aim!

US Navy swimmers assist NASA astronauts into a life raft and out of the Command Module from their journey to the moon on Apollo 12. This picture was taken about 45 minutes after splashdown in the south Pacific. The USS Hornet provided rescue operations.

Photo credit: NASA

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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